Swedish Politics Up in the Air

Going into 2015, everything about the Swedish political landscape is up in the air. In a country where the social democrats held power – singlehandedly or supported by one or two other parties – during almost all of the 20th century, they are now unable to form even a coalition capable of getting the budget through parliament. Last week the budget proposal of the government lost to the opposing coalition, and the Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén publicly announced that he would call for extra elections.

The current government coalition of the Social democrats and the Greens had negotiated support from the left party for their budget. In previous years this would have meant that their budget would have passed parliament. The old convention held that in lack of a stable majority the biggest minority coalition would be allowed to rule with its budget in place. But – as last week’s events show – the old convention doesn’t hold anymore.
One of the factors is the new reality of a strong far-right populist party, the Sweden democrats, at almost 13 % of the vote. The Sweden democrats might perhaps more aptly be labelled a neo-fascist party. There is an ongoing academic and popular debate on this issue, but suffice to say that they trace their lineage from the white power movement and were still in the 1990s an openly fascist organization composed mainly of skinheads – and they are still expelling members just about every week for offensive statements about foreigners, immigration, the crimes of the Nazi regime, and so forth.
Labels aside, they have used their “kingmaker” position as the party outside of the two major blocs in Swedish politics to collapse the budget process. They made it clear that they would vote for the center-right opposition, the “alliance” budget proposal – the smaller minority block in this case – and therefore that budget won last week’s vote.
This left the Social democrat government with three choices, none of which were very appealing.
They could resign and see if a new government could be formed, which would be unlikely since the Social democrats and Greens are still the biggest minority. They could govern on their opposition’s budget. Or lastly, which is what eventually happened, they could call for an extra election.
Formally the call for an extra election has to wait until 29 December and can’t take place before 22 March. The Social democrats have stated that they are still willing to for a partial coalition compromise on some issues that could make one or two of the parties of the center-right alliance willing to let the budget pass, but all attempts at negotiations have faltered so far. The Sweden democrats are saying that they want to make the upcoming elections into a referendum on “mass immigration” and that they will stop any budget that maintains the current political consensus in Sweden on immigration issues.
This is the first extra election in Sweden since 1958 – and that one took place under another constitution, so the situation is quite unique. Last year was a so called “superelection” year with four elections taking place in four months, and that left most political parties as well as the general public exhausted of election campaigns. But even though all of the election posters have not yet been taken down from last time it is apparently time to elect again.
Most analysts contend that there won’t be any major shifts in voting from last elections – which would once more leave Sweden in a paralyzed position of two minority coalitions, one far-right populist party and no one being able to govern.
The once stable and consensus oriented parliament of Sweden is obviously no more. It remains to be seen what will take its place.