Politics

Sweden (Still) Resists the Right

Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather.  The concern about an increase in the popularity of the far-right political party and national populism was the theme song of forecasters and commentators of the parliamentary general election on September 9, 2018 in Sweden.  The general belief was that the far-right Sweden Democrat party, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment, would increase its share of the vote, perhaps to about 30%, and become the leading party in the country.  The forecasts were only partly correct.  The party did increase its share of the vote by 4.7% but obtained only just under 18%.  Different conclusions may be drawn; the optimistic one is that Sweden only partly followed the path of far-right parties in other European countries in recent years.

Far-right populist movements have grown in strength in European countries – in Italy, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, and France.  The biggest threat to the European Union’s program comes from Viktor Orbán, prime minster of Hungary, who has refused to accept E.U. refugee quota arrangements and challenged the leadership of E.U.  Orbán has been rebuked by the European Parliament, which approved a report that he threatened the rule of law by hampering press and academic freedom and then voted to censure Hungary.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be with the arrival in Europe of immigrants bringing uncertainty and often violence.  Sweden, if no longer a socialist utopia, with its broad liberal consensus, generous welfare state, and social peace, ruled for long periods by Social Democrats, seemed to typify Newton’s law of inertia: an object at rest will stay at rest.

For most of the world, Sweden is a country best known for Nobel Prizes; Abba, the pop group quartet, who started in 1972; Ingrid Bergman, who left Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca; film director Ingmar Bergman; playwright August Strindberg; and IKEA, founded by a 17-year-old in 1943, the firm of modernist designs appliances and furniture and now the world’s largest furniture retailer, delicious meatballs, and pickled herring.  Sweden is an affluent and progressive country with a strong welfare system and high tax rates.

The country is now also one of fragmented political landscape and voter volatility. 

At the general election on September 9, 2018, about 41% of voters said they voted for a different party from 2014.  In a high turnout of 84%, the result was inconclusive, with eight parties being represented in the parliament, leaving the country in political uncertainty about the formation of a coalition government, with the two major blocs almost equal and the far-right Sweden Democrats an outsider.  One bloc is center-left (consisting of Social Democrats, Left, Greens), getting 40.7% and 144 seats, and the other is center-right (Christian Democrats, Moderate, Liberals, Center), getting 40.3% and 143 seats.  The Sweden Democrats, the far-right party outside the blocs, who got 6% in 2010, got 17.6% of the vote in 2018, the third largest proportion, and 62 seats.

Both of the two blocs are short of a majority, and any government will need support from the opposite bloc for policy approval since neither wants support from the Sweden Democrats.  The major parties all lost votes and seats in the new Riksdag of 349.  The Social Democrats, the largest party, often got 45% of the vote in the past but this time received only 28.4% of the vote, down 3% since 2014, and won 101 seats.  It is still the largest party.  The opposition Moderates, who adopted some of the far-right ideology, had 30% of the vote in 2010 but now, with 19.8%, lost 3.5% and got 70 seats.  Thus, there was less support for mainstream politics and parties, in spite of the fact that they had accepted a moratorium on asylum-seekers, the deportation of illegal aliens, and stronger rules for citizenship.

The Sweden Democrats did better, though the party’s increase was less than the rise of 7.2% between 2010 and 2014 and less well than expectations.  What, then, explains the rise in far-right support, the increase in populism, the dislike of globalization?  A number of issues disturbed the country: shortage of doctors, teachers, police; and violence in the city of Malmö, especially in the foreign-populated Rosengard area, that some regard as a no-go area, with its violent anti-Semitic outbreaks, general lack of safety, increase in gangland shootings, crime, rape, and murder.  In 2017, there were 320 shootings and 7,226 rapes, over half committed by foreigners, the immigrants.

The key is immigration, stress on identity politics, and concern about crime and lack of law and order.  One fifth of Sweden’s 10 million have foreign roots, and many are not well integrated.  Unemployment is 4% among natives but 16% among foreign-born and 23% for non-European immigrants, who are accused of a disproportionate number of crimes, terrorism, and lack of Swedish values of tolerance and openness.

Clearly, the most important factor is criticism of immigration.  In 2015, Sweden admitted 162,000 immigrants, the second largest number of migrants per capita of any E.U. nation.  As a result of public criticism, the number dropped to 26,000 in 2017.

The Sweden Democrats party, founded in 1988, is led by 39-year-old Jimmie Akesson, a charismatic speaker, usually casually dressed, a college dropout and heavy gambler.

The dilemma remains for a period of negotiation, and the evidence is mixed because of the relative weakness of the mainstream parties, which must now deal with the immigration issue.  The country now has a fragmented legislature and possibly a weak government.  It will take some time to agree on a new coalition government.  Already the present prime minister, Social Democrat Stefan Lofven, P.M. since 2014, has rejected a demand from Ulf Kristersson, leader of the opposition center-right Moderates since 2017, to help form a coalition.

One problem is that if the two blocs joined in a grand coalition, the Sweden Democrats could claim they are the only opposition group.  But this does not indicate that the far right will play a role similar to that in other European countries.  Akesson, the party’s leader since 2005, insists that the Muslim population is the biggest foreign threat to Sweden since World War II.  With the existing concentration on immigration and opposition to refugees and migrants, the far right will have some influence until the mainstream parties deal with the issue.

It is gratifying that the Sweden Democrats did not do as well as some had feared.  The question for the country is whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.  When the worst are full of passionate intensity, for a healthy political system, the center must hold.  As Mark Twain once wrote, if your job is to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.

Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather.  The concern about an increase in the popularity of the far-right political party and national populism was the theme song of forecasters and commentators of the parliamentary general election on September 9, 2018 in Sweden.  The general belief was that the far-right Sweden Democrat party, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment, would increase its share of the vote, perhaps to about 30%, and become the leading party in the country.  The forecasts were only partly correct.  The party did increase its share of the vote by 4.7% but obtained only just under 18%.  Different conclusions may be drawn; the optimistic one is that Sweden only partly followed the path of far-right parties in other European countries in recent years.

Far-right populist movements have grown in strength in European countries – in Italy, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, and France.  The biggest threat to the European Union’s program comes from Viktor Orbán, prime minster of Hungary, who has refused to accept E.U. refugee quota arrangements and challenged the leadership of E.U.  Orbán has been rebuked by the European Parliament, which approved a report that he threatened the rule of law by hampering press and academic freedom and then voted to censure Hungary.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be with the arrival in Europe of immigrants bringing uncertainty and often violence.  Sweden, if no longer a socialist utopia, with its broad liberal consensus, generous welfare state, and social peace, ruled for long periods by Social Democrats, seemed to typify Newton’s law of inertia: an object at rest will stay at rest.

For most of the world, Sweden is a country best known for Nobel Prizes; Abba, the pop group quartet, who started in 1972; Ingrid Bergman, who left Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca; film director Ingmar Bergman; playwright August Strindberg; and IKEA, founded by a 17-year-old in 1943, the firm of modernist designs appliances and furniture and now the world’s largest furniture retailer, delicious meatballs, and pickled herring.  Sweden is an affluent and progressive country with a strong welfare system and high tax rates.

The country is now also one of fragmented political landscape and voter volatility. 

At the general election on September 9, 2018, about 41% of voters said they voted for a different party from 2014.  In a high turnout of 84%, the result was inconclusive, with eight parties being represented in the parliament, leaving the country in political uncertainty about the formation of a coalition government, with the two major blocs almost equal and the far-right Sweden Democrats an outsider.  One bloc is center-left (consisting of Social Democrats, Left, Greens), getting 40.7% and 144 seats, and the other is center-right (Christian Democrats, Moderate, Liberals, Center), getting 40.3% and 143 seats.  The Sweden Democrats, the far-right party outside the blocs, who got 6% in 2010, got 17.6% of the vote in 2018, the third largest proportion, and 62 seats.

Both of the two blocs are short of a majority, and any government will need support from the opposite bloc for policy approval since neither wants support from the Sweden Democrats.  The major parties all lost votes and seats in the new Riksdag of 349.  The Social Democrats, the largest party, often got 45% of the vote in the past but this time received only 28.4% of the vote, down 3% since 2014, and won 101 seats.  It is still the largest party.  The opposition Moderates, who adopted some of the far-right ideology, had 30% of the vote in 2010 but now, with 19.8%, lost 3.5% and got 70 seats.  Thus, there was less support for mainstream politics and parties, in spite of the fact that they had accepted a moratorium on asylum-seekers, the deportation of illegal aliens, and stronger rules for citizenship.

The Sweden Democrats did better, though the party’s increase was less than the rise of 7.2% between 2010 and 2014 and less well than expectations.  What, then, explains the rise in far-right support, the increase in populism, the dislike of globalization?  A number of issues disturbed the country: shortage of doctors, teachers, police; and violence in the city of Malmö, especially in the foreign-populated Rosengard area, that some regard as a no-go area, with its violent anti-Semitic outbreaks, general lack of safety, increase in gangland shootings, crime, rape, and murder.  In 2017, there were 320 shootings and 7,226 rapes, over half committed by foreigners, the immigrants.

The key is immigration, stress on identity politics, and concern about crime and lack of law and order.  One fifth of Sweden’s 10 million have foreign roots, and many are not well integrated.  Unemployment is 4% among natives but 16% among foreign-born and 23% for non-European immigrants, who are accused of a disproportionate number of crimes, terrorism, and lack of Swedish values of tolerance and openness.

Clearly, the most important factor is criticism of immigration.  In 2015, Sweden admitted 162,000 immigrants, the second largest number of migrants per capita of any E.U. nation.  As a result of public criticism, the number dropped to 26,000 in 2017.

The Sweden Democrats party, founded in 1988, is led by 39-year-old Jimmie Akesson, a charismatic speaker, usually casually dressed, a college dropout and heavy gambler.

The dilemma remains for a period of negotiation, and the evidence is mixed because of the relative weakness of the mainstream parties, which must now deal with the immigration issue.  The country now has a fragmented legislature and possibly a weak government.  It will take some time to agree on a new coalition government.  Already the present prime minister, Social Democrat Stefan Lofven, P.M. since 2014, has rejected a demand from Ulf Kristersson, leader of the opposition center-right Moderates since 2017, to help form a coalition.

One problem is that if the two blocs joined in a grand coalition, the Sweden Democrats could claim they are the only opposition group.  But this does not indicate that the far right will play a role similar to that in other European countries.  Akesson, the party’s leader since 2005, insists that the Muslim population is the biggest foreign threat to Sweden since World War II.  With the existing concentration on immigration and opposition to refugees and migrants, the far right will have some influence until the mainstream parties deal with the issue.

It is gratifying that the Sweden Democrats did not do as well as some had feared.  The question for the country is whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.  When the worst are full of passionate intensity, for a healthy political system, the center must hold.  As Mark Twain once wrote, if your job is to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.


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