Swedish Election: lurching rightwards

Swedish events barely figure in the international news. So I am reporting this here.

It will be difficult to form any majority after the 14 September Riksdag election (Riksdag is unicameral), when no party won more than 30 percent of the votes, the two main parties winning 31% (Social Democrats) and 23% (Moderates). The third largest party are now the Sweden Democrats more than doubling their share vote from 5.7% to 12.9%, and effectively holding the balance of power. But there is a large group of parties clustered around 5% with 6.9% (Greens), the Left Party 5.7%, Centre 5.7%, Liberal (5.4%) and Christian Democrats (4.6%). Feminist Initiative increased their vote to 3.1% but are still below the 4 percent minimum needed to win any seats.

Frederick Reinfeldt resigned as soon as he saw the result and also resigned as leader of the Moderates to leave politics. Most political commentators have been critical and very puzzled by Reinfeldt leaving a political vacuum at a time of turmoil. To make matters worse, the Finance Minister Anders Borg has done the same, resigning  as finance minister and leaving politics.

The Social Democrats have been desperate to get back into office and after 2 previous failed leaders – Mona Sahlin after the poor result of the 2010 election, and Håkan Juholt on the traditional left of the party resigned after a media feeding frenzy on his expenses. The shadowy committee (Executive Board – verkställande Utskott) that decides who should be the next leader of the party chose a middle of the road Social Democrat, Stefan Löfven to stand against the New Moderates under Reinfeldt. This was bound to lead to  the two parties having very similar policies, which is exactly what has happened. This in turn benefitted the Sweden Democrats. Well done Social Democrats!

The much respected Social Democrat prime minster for a decade, Göran Persson, sees the effect of the Reinfeldt years as being the neglect of the rural areas while large sums are spent on improving roads and underground (T-Bahn) and house-building in Stockholm. Other big cities like Uppsala, Gothenburg and Malmö also benefitted, even if less so than Stockholm. Meanwhile rural areas saw the deterioration of rail communications, closure of supermarkets and poor mobile phone coverage: http://www.thelocal.se/20140921/ex-prime-minister-sweden-is-falling-apart.

One problem with this is that the New Moderates have established a reputation for financial competence that Löfven lacks being untried and not having been elected to the Riksdag. And the Moderates have lost both Reinfeldt and Borg!

So Löfven is trying to form a middle of the road government by putting together the Social Democrats with the Greens and two bourgeois parties, Centre and Liberal:

While the [Liberal] party historically was positioned in the centre of the Swedish political landscape, willing to cooperate with both the political left and the right, the party has since the leaderships of Lars Leijonborg and Jan Björklund in the 2000s become more conservative and positioned itself clearly on the right.[2][4][11] The party’s issues includes free market economy, pushing for Sweden to join NATO, the Eurozone, as well as investing in nuclear power; lately it has focused more on gender equality and the school system.[2][4]  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Peoples_Party_(Sweden)

As things stand now it will probably be another two weeks before Löfven can present a budget to Riksdag, until which nothing much can happen, apart from intense negotiations in private.

Can Löfven build a government with such centre material? Many doubt it. How will he reconcile the Greens’ major policy platform of closing two nuclear reactors with the Liberal Party’s commitment to investing in nuclear power? At best this will be a bourgeois government in Social Democratic clothing. Compromise rules the day.

And it risks making the Sweden Democrats the only party with distinctive policies. It is already the third largest party and holds the Riksdag balance of power between the Social Democrats and Moderates. The stage seems to be set for the Sweden Democrats to increase their share of the votes at the next election, which could be sooner than 4 years… Spoiling ballots has been one way to protest without voting for what many see as a racist party, votes cast for Donald Duck and Zlatan, as the local.se article puts it. An interesting time awaits…

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