August has been a quiet month for elections; so much so that Australians had to make their own political news last week. But things will get more interesting next month, most notably with the Swedish election in less than two weeks time, on 9 September.
You can read here all about the last election, in 2014. Eight parties won seats, and are all likely to do so again – the Swedish party system is very stable – although there’s a chance that the Christian Democrats, with 4.6% last time, may fall below the 4% threshold for representation.
Seven of the parties belong to one of two broad alliances, four on the right (Moderates, Centre Party, Liberals and Christian Democrats) and three on the left (Social Democrats, Greens and Left). Governments are always led by either the Moderates or the Social Democrats: last time, the left finished 4.2% and 18 seats ahead of the right, and Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven became prime minister.
But his coalition did not have a parliamentary majority; the balance of power was held by the remaining party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, who finished third with 12.9% and 39 seats.
For a while it looked as if the parliament would not run anything like its full term. The government’s budget was defeated when the Sweden Democrats voted with the opposition, and Löfven announced an early election. But it was called off after government and opposition came to an agreement to lock out the far right from influence.
Pursuant to their agreement, the opposition parties have since allowed the government’s budget measures to pass, although they have occasionally blocked other legislation. But a side effect, predictably enough, was a boost to the standing of the Sweden Democrats, now able to brand themselves as the only “real” opposition party.
Wikipedia’s graph of opinion poll results tells the story. Support for the far right climbed in the first half of 2015, peaking at around 23%. Since then it has oscillated around the 20% mark, competing with the Moderates for second place, behind the Social Democrats.
The pattern is interesting, because it looks as if voters treat the Sweden Democrats and the Moderates to a large extent as alternatives; one’s loss is the other’s gain. And this despite the fact that the Sweden Democrats have much more explicitly neo-fascist origins than most Scandinavian far-right parties.
But like many parties in that part of the spectrum, the Sweden Democrats have been seeking greater respectability – and to some extent finding it. In 2014, when they first won seats in the European parliament, they were denied admission to the moderate Eurosceptic group, European Conservatives and Reformists; the Finnish and Danish far-right parties saw them as too toxic.
Last month, however, ECR changed its mind, saying that the Sweden Democrats were “mov[ing] towards becoming a major party of the government in Sweden,” and welcomed them to the group.
Certainly the party’s stridently anti-immigrant rhetoric strikes a chord with some Swedish voters. Sweden has been generous in accepting refugees over the last 30 years, with a sharp increase in ethnic diversity as a result; it is particularly noticeable in some of the major cities.
Most Swedes seem pretty comfortable with the achievement, but there are inevitably some tensions. Many worry about crime, and a minority evidently pines for a more ethnically homogeneous era.
Leaving aside the far right, the two rival alliances are again running very close together, with the left slightly in the lead: Wikipedia’s rolling average gives them 39.6% to 37.4%, which would produce a margin of something like ten seats (more if the Christian Democrats drop out).
So while the election will be a test for the Sweden Democrats, as to whether they can become the country’s second-largest party, it will be even more a test for the centre-right. Will they continue to hold the line for consensus politics, or will they follow the lead of so many of their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, and bargain with the hard right to regain office?