Election preview: Sweden

Sweden goes to the polls on Sunday, with the centre-left government of prime minister Magdalena Andersson seeking re-election. Andersson, who is Sweden’s first female leader, took office last December on the retirement of her predecessor, Stefan Löfven, although there was a hiatus of inter-party bargaining before she was able to win a vote of confidence.

Voting is straight proportional representation (Sainte-Laguë), with a 4% threshold. Eight parties won seats last time, and probably will again. The four that support the Andersson government (although only the Social Democrats currently sit in the cabinet) won a bare majority, 175 of the 349 seats: 100 Social Democrats, 31 Centre (liberal-agrarian), 28 Left (post-Communists) and 16 Greens. (Official results here.)

The four parties opposed to them are all on the right, but, like the government side, they cover some ideological breadth. Two are centre-right; the Moderates with 70 seats and the Christian Democrats with 22. The Liberals (right-liberal) won 20 seats and the far-right Sweden Democrats 62. The latter have recently tried to move away from their neo-fascist origins (they sit with the Eurosceptics rather than the far right in the European parliament), but their appeal is still heavily based on opposition to non-white immigration.

The Centre started out in alliance with the centre-right, but both it and the Liberals moved to support the Social Democrats after the last election rather than deal with the far right. Last year, following a dispute over rent control, the Liberals moved back to the centre-right, leaving the government with its current precarious majority. In the meantime, the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats have been running neck-and-neck in the polls, although both remain behind the Social Democrats, who have topped the poll at every election since 1917.

A lot else has happened in Sweden in the last four years. Its early experience of the Covid-19 pandemic was controversial, with Löfven becoming an unlikely poster child for “libertarians” due to his avoidance of a lockdown. Then this year the invasion of Ukraine led Sweden to abandon its historic neutrality and apply for membership of NATO; the Greens and (to a lesser extent) the Left remain opposed, but the Sweden Democrats have given their support.

Despite all this, the opinion polls show remarkably little change since 2018. The Social Democrats retain a clear lead, polling in the high 20s; the Moderates and Sweden Democrats are both in the high teens, with the far right apparently just ahead. The others have barely moved: the Left climbed above 10% last year but is now back to around 8%, where it started; the Greens have followed the opposite trajectory, dipping below the threshold for a time but now sitting on a more comfortable 6%.

But of course the effect of the government having such a wafer-thin majority is that even a tiny movement could be very significant. Something like 51-49 in Andersson’s favor looks reasonably likely, but it wouldn’t take much for it come out at 51-49 the other way, and hence potentially deal the far right into government.

Counting is usually pretty swift, so results should be available by breakfast time on Monday in eastern Australia.

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