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What happened in the Swedish general election?

We are delighted to welcome back founding member of Europa United Adam Snygg to our writing halls after a academic hiatus. Adam had been watching the results of the recent Swedish general election and has designed a number of possible political scenarios that could end up being the governmental status of the Nordic state. 

Just a day after the final results of the Swedish general elections of 2018 were released by the National Election Board and even though the results are among the closest in Swedish history almost all parties have nominated themselves as the winners. So how is that possible?

As always, context is important

While there are quite a lot of parties in the Swedish Riksdag at the moment, most of them are part of the two blocks of Swedish politics: The Red-Greens and the Alliance for Sweden. The Red-Greens are a centre-left coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green Party, currently in government, with the support of the Party of the Left, a hard-line socialist party. The Alliance is currently in opposition and led by the Moderate Party, a liberal-conservative party. There are also one pure conservative party, the Christian Democrats, and two liberal parties, the agrarian and neoliberal Centre Party as well as the more urban and social liberal Liberals. Then there’s also the Sweden Democrats, a far right party founded by literal Nazis, shunned even by other far right parties in the Nordic countries.

election-in-sweden

It all in the mix in Sweden

Quite a roll call as you can see, no less than 8 parties in the Riksdag. And all claiming victory. But that doesn’t seem possible does it? Well, that depends on how you judge it. Let’s break it down:

The Social Democrats and the greens lost a little less than two percentiles each, the greens hovering dangerously close to the 4% limit to be included in the Riksdag. The Party of the Left, outside the coalition but in support of it, increased a little bit more than 2 percentiles, meaning that the Red-Greens barely but significantly are still the largest coalition. All those parties thus claim victory by the basis of being the largest coalition.

The Alliance, then, are the losers? Yes, as a whole, but individually all parties except the Moderates increased in size and the Alliance as a whole increased their vote count, being a single mandate smaller than the Red-Greens. This is especially important for the conservative Christian Democrats who were under the 4% limit until just a week or two ago. They are also larger than the government coalition – if you don’t count the tacit support of the Party of the Left. Thus, they see themselves as the winners.

free Jimmie Åkesson

Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats

But the party that increased the most was the Sweden Democrats. Yet, while the Sweden Democrat leadership claims this as a victory their party base are very disappointed. Why would the party that increased the most be the most sad? Well, they had claimed that their support was much larger than polls showed and were convinced that they would be the second largest party, taking over the mantel of “main conservative party” in the Swedish Riksdag. But not only did they not over-perform compared to the polls – they under-performed by a pretty significant margin, several percentiles under the polls. Their only path to power thus lies in coalition, something the Red-Greens have ruled out completely and the liberal parts of the Alliance opposes.

Sweden thus stands at an impasse. No coalition got more than 50% of the votes and there is no agreement to let a winning coalition that lacks 50% of the seats to slip through. What will happen? The immediate answer is that the Red-Green coalition will continue to operate as leaders until the Riksdag opens. Then things will either get solved or Sweden will stand without a government until it is solved. There are a couple of ways this can end:

Firstly it’s possible that the parties will not manage to get themselves to any conclusive settlement and a new election will be called, an election literally no one wants to have. While it’s a true risk, I would put it as unlikely.

The Sweden Democrats are offered something to support the Alliance

The Sweden Democrats have made it clear that they want to form a government with the Moderates and the Christian Democrats, splitting the Alliance and forming the most right wing government that Sweden has ever had – a nightmare for a social democrat like me. They have also made it clear that they will not put any government through that does not make a deal with them, so no side can count on tacit support from them. This would still not get over 50% of the seats so either Centre Party or the Liberals would have to give tacit support to this government instead of the Red-Greens. While both the Liberal parties have claimed they will not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, maybe they hate Socialists more than Nationalists? The Moderates have so far been negative to such a solution, but who knows what happens as time goes by? Still, I’d say this is only marginally more likely than a new election.

The Centre Party and/or the Liberals are included in the Red-Green coalition,

This would mean ending the Alliance and breaking apart coalition politics. This is the first option I would say has any real likelihood of happening. It depends on how willing the Social Democrats are to give and how much the Liberals would feel they are losing by abandoning the Alliance. This would be a very centrist government and perhaps the beginning of a new social-liberal coalition, something Sweden has never really seen in the national government.

A deal is made between the coalitions

One side promises to push through key legislation the other side wants, for example, or perhaps the Red-Greens are hailed as the winners by being the largest and allowed to form a government. Last election, this was the solution for a similar parliamentary problem and you should never underestimate politicians’ inclination for using old solutions. In this case that might not be a bad thing though, it would be perhaps the best way to keep the Sweden Democrats out of influence for a start and it would force the coalitions to make solutions that both sides appreciate. This, I think, is the solution we’ll see, though I dare not speculate in exactly what will happen.

Parliamentary democracy is interesting partly because one side rarely just “wins”, there is usually several different levels of winning and losing. A poor showing in the polls can be alleviated by well argued diplomacy between parties at a later stage for example.

All in all I’d say this election is call for celebration for progressive Europeanists. The Sweden Democrats might have increased their support but by far less than they thought and their steam seems to be going out. EU-positive parties did very well and a conservative, Eurosceptic government is very unlikely.

With some luck, this is the beginning of the end for this right wing wave in Sweden – and, perhaps, in all of the Western world.

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