Wed Sep 15th, 2010 at 05:05:22 AM EST
On September 19, Sweden goes to the polls, and the potential for chaos and confusion is unprecedented. For the Swedish political junkie, this is the most exciting thing since the Cossack election of 1928.
Update: New poll included!
Promoted by Colman - interesting comment thread ongoing.
The two Blocs
During the last term of office (2006-2010), Swedish politics have crystallized into two blocks: The Alliance (center-right) and the Red-greens (center-left).
The Alliance is dominated by the Moderate party, previously seen as the party of the wealthy and successful, something which have limited their electoral success. But in 2002 the new leader Fredrik Reinfeldt decided to move the party sharply to the left and abandon the party's resistance to the generous welfare state. This aggressive triangulation included taking over old social democratic slogans (like arbetslinjen, "the work/labour line", i.e. everyone's duty to do their part for society and not be a parasite) and even making new versions of classic social democratic posters. During this election the Moderates not only call themselves a "workers party" but "the only workers party".
Fredrik Reinfeldt is the current prime minister of Sweden and the obvious candidate to lead the next government, if the Alliance wins next Sunday. The party currently poll at about 30 %. The Moderates are supported by the three other borgerliga (bourgeois) parties. They are Folkpartiet (liberal party, about 8 %), Centerpartiet (formerly farmers party, now a confused entity, about 5 %) and Kristdemokraterna (5 %). The two former are considered centre-right while the latter is seen as more right-wing, due to their somewhat more conservative view on value issues.
The Red-greens are also dominated by one party: the Social Democrats. Their current position in the polls is horrible: in the 2006 election they got about 35 % which was seen as disastrous. Now they're polling at less than 30 %, lower than the Moderates, and if this result stands on election day the Social Democrats will have their worst result since 1914(!), before full democracy was introduced in Sweden.
So why this incredible awfulness for the Soc dems? I can see four main reasons. One is that people feel that the Alliance-government has done a pretty good job, in spite of failing on their main election promise, lowering unemployment. People seem to feel that one has to take the global crisis into account, especially as the big job losses have been in the export-dependent manufacturing sector.
The second reason is that Miljöpartiet (the Greens 8 %) are taking votes from them. The main reason for this is that the Green party chairman Maria Wetterstrand is quite brilliant, not only being intelligent and charismatic but attractive as well.
The third reason is the third party in the Red-green coalition: Vänsterpartiet (the Left party (6 %), until 1991 "The Left Party, the Communists"). Due to the staunch anti-Communism of the entire Swedish labour movement (and especially that of the unions) during the 20th century, many soc dem sympathisers and marginal voters feel a deep aversion against voting former communists into government. The issue exacerbated even further by Vänsterpartiet chairman Lars Ohly claiming to be a communist as late as five years ago, which caused a media furor that still taints Ohly's image (he claims not to be a communist anymore).
The fourth, and in my mind most important reason, is that Soc dem chairman Mona Sahlin is widely seen as weak, incompetent and during her long career she has almost exclusively concerned herself with identity politics (gay rights, multiculturalism and so on). She is not seen as an authority on things like financial policy, jobs, the environment or foreign policy.
A loss for the left would be historical. Mona Sahlin would be the first soc dem chairman not to become prime minister since Claes Tholin (chairman 1896-1907). Fredrik Reinfeldt would be the first right-wing prime minister to be re-elected, ever. If Sahlin wins, she will be the first female prime minister in the history of Sweden.
Now this seems very straight-forward, doesn't it? Either the right wins and remains in power for four more years, or the left kicks them out and forms a majority government of their own.
This is were the spoiler comes in: Sverigedemokraterna (the Sweden Democrats). Sverigedemokraterna is your usual run-of-the-mill anti-immigration right-wing populist party. In the 2006 election they failed to reach the 4 % threshold and got no seats in parliament. This time they are polling at about 5 % and it's more or less sure that they'll get in (I wouldn't be surprised if they even get as much as 7 %), in spite of a pretty much unified media campaign against them.
So, what are the alternatives if Sverigedemokraterna gets into parliament?
- The centre-right still gets a majority and forms a government. This will only work if the centre-right gets really good numbers, which seems to become more likely by every passing day.
- The centre-left gets a majority and forms a government. This is unlikely, because of their weak poll numbers.
- The centre-right becomes bigger than the centre-left, but doesn't get a majority. They invite the Greens to leave the centre-left bloc and join them in government. This is a distinct possibility.
- The centre-left becomes bigger than the centre-right and invites Folkpartiet and or Centerpartiet to change bloc and join them in government. This is less likely than the Greens joining the right, because not only is bloc solidarity stronger in the Alliance, but neither Folkpartiet nor Centerpartiet will join a government with Vänsterpartiet, due to the communist issue. So for this to work, this centre-left must be weak enough not to initially be able to form a government (Soc dem+Miljöpartiet+Vänsterpartiet) but also be strong enough to be able to form a government even if Vänsterpartiet is kicked out and replaced by the two centre-right parties. For this to happen Vänsterpartiet must make a bad election while Folkpartiet and Centerpartiet must make a good election. This does not seem likely at all.
- The centre-right doesn't get enough votes to form a majority, but takes Sverigedemokraterna in as a support party (without giving them seats in the government). This is a distinct possibility, which is strenuously denied by the centre-right Alliance whenever they get the chance.
- The left gets bigger than the right but doesn't get a majority. Because of our strange constitution, it means the current government will stay in power, as a majority is needed to bring the government down. This the Red-greens can only do by cooperating on this issue with Sverigedemokraterna, which jars with their oft repeated promise to "never" cooperate with Sverigedemokraterna on "anything". This means we will have a minority government, where the minority with the smaller number of seats in parliament will rule! This centre-right government will have to rely on different left-wing parties (or Sverigedemokraterna) on each and every reform that is to be voted into law, so it might well be pretty paralyzed government.
- The Moderates form a grand coalition with the Social democrats. No one is even speculating on this solution, and the immediate second coming of Jesus Christ is probably more likely.
- If none of these solutions works because of locked positions, or if say the first budget of the new government fails due to lack of parliamentary support, we might get new elections. This would be the first time ever in the history of Sweden.