Why who loses in the Swedish General Election could have greater impact than who wins.
On Sunday, 14 September 2014, Sweden will be holding a general election as per the second Sunday in September every four years. No surprise there. Neither was there much in the way of surprises when the current Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, went head to head with the leader of the opposition, Stefan Löfven, in a televised duel on Sunday evening. Both gentlemen spoke calmly, earnestly, and with respect. Nothing extreme. They were knowledgeable and well prepared.
There are, however, two foregone conclusions about this election:
Neither Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party nor Stefan Löfven’s Social Democratic Party will achieve a majority to govern. Sweden’s new government will, as always, be a coalition – a direct result of eight main parties (requiring at least 4% of the vote to be represented in the Swedish Riksdag) touting for votes. So the big question is whether the victors will be The Alliance (Moderate, Liberal, Centre and Christian Democrats parties) or The Red-Green Pact (Social Democratic, Left and Green parties). In the last election, for example, the Social Democratic Party scored the most seats in the house, but the Alliance won as a whole, albeit without a majority. The polls are currently suggesting another close call that may well result in no clear majority for either side in 2014 either.
But not to worry. Coalition governments surviving on a small majority is a way of life in political Sweden. And while listening to these two gentlemen debate, it struck me that – all things being equal – it really doesn’t matter which side wins on Sunday. Both gentlemen made decent points, both genuinely had the country’s best interests at heart (rather than a personal agenda of glory) and both would make worthy Prime Ministers. Sweden will remain in the EU and may, or may not, join NATO.
My mother once said: a democratic country needs a strong opposition. And that makes a lot of sense. It keeps things on an even keel. A little to the left, or a little to the right, but fundamentally being steered in a stable direction. And I’m wondering if this is the secret to Sweden’s social and political success. Looking around the world, there is much to be said for an even keel, where people feel their vote has been heard and know that even if their side loses, their representatives will still be contributing to debates in the Riksdag and there will be another election on Sunday, 9 September 2018.
But. As I said, there were two foregone conclusions and the eagle-eyed will also have counted just seven parties listed so far. The eighth party is the Sweden Democrats, a relatively new party that entered the Riksdag in 2014 and represents Swedish nationalism. They currently have 20/349 seats. But the second foregone conclusion is that this party will gain more power. While all the other seven parties agree that this is the party to shun and undermine, all the polls indicate an upswing in 2014.
Votes for the Sweden Democrats are expected to be cast by disgruntled Swedes across the political board, and this could mean that one or several of the smaller parties don’t make it over the 4% vote barrier, which would seriously upset the balance between the two sides. It could also put the Sweden Democrats in a position of greater power than represented by the number of seats they win, as both The Alliance and The Red-Green Pact will need their support to get anything done. Which won’t come for free. And why should it? Surely the Sweden Democrat voters have a right to be heard too, or suddenly democracy in Sweden is under threat.
After Sunday, Sweden’s balance of power between the two political sides may be further off centre. And the long-term impact may be more rooted in who lost power than who won. Stay tuned.