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Swedish elections - expert comment

Dr Edward Page, from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, comments on the forthcoming Swedish elections.

“A fairly unique set of factors mean this is a highly unusual election but whether it is 'historic' remains to be seen.

“It depends on the result and the aftermath of the result. The electoral landscape is now effectively that there are three (rather than the usual two) party groupings - (1) left-centre/left (2) right-centre/right and (3) Swedish Democrats. But there is no arrangement in place (either informal or constitutional) for any of the likely election results to lead to a government being formed and there is little appetite amongst the voters of each grouping to co-operate with the others in forming a government. This means deadlock or a "dead heat" ('dött lopp') as Swedish commentators are calling it.

“Hard bargaining over ministerial places and political influence is the norm in Swedish politics both before and after elections as the multi-party electoral system does not deliver simple parliamentary majorities. But deadlock as we see it now is not and the riddle of how a government can even be formed in a three party group system came to dominate the election.

“The main campaigning topics, otherwise, have been healthcare, law and order, immigration and integration, and education. International trade and environmental issues have also been a factor in debates - and an opportunity for each party to differentiate themselves - but international issues have not been a key battleground (the exception, here, is the fascinating rivalry between Liberals and Swedish Democrats which are, respectively, the strongest supporters and opponents of the EU. Contrary to much international speculation, the summer weather and wildfires have not been played a significant role in the election campaign. Brexit is almost non-existent as an issue in the campaign.

“The polls indicate that all eight parties will now surpass the four per cent threshold required to be represented in parliament. The two parties that were in a very precarious position over the summer were the Greens (MP) (on the left) and Christian Democrats (KD) (on the right). The Greens probably did benefit from concerns about climate change after the summer but on the other hand they have been very successful at mobilizing their base at previous elections in order to surpass the four per cent threshold.

“The Christian Democrats (KD) - more interestingly - seem to have had an unusually strong and recent bump through the perceived strong performance of their leader in various radio and TV debates and also a significant pivot to the right (they are currently the only mainstream party overtly open to co-operation with the Swedish Democrats (SD)). An interesting side story, here, is that a high profile KD official defected to the SD yesterday, which created a lot of debate given the timing.

“From a political science perspective, the various combinations of possible governing coalitions that will be tested on Monday raise a fascinating scenario that none work and there is an extra election (the first since 1958) although it is hard to believe that any of the parties from the two mainstream groupings desires one. The left/centre-left grouping will probably end up a slightly larger force in parliament (40-42 per cent) than the right/centre-right block (38-40 per cent) and Swedish Democrats (18-20 per cent). Polls have been shown to be deceiving before and few are taking anything for granted - some polls have put the Swedish Democrats as high as 25 per cent. Putting aside this outcome - which would certainly make the election 'historic´- the distribution of seats in parliament could well end up roughly the same as it is today but with a greatly strengthened far right party maintaining the balance of power and a greatly increased mandate to push for its key policies and priorities. It would also mean considerably weakened leading parties (Social Democrats (SD) and Moderates (M)) leading the two mainstream groupings.

“What is of most interest to an international audience? The recent international coverage has certainly over-stated the 'crisis' that Sweden is in though it faces a greater challenge than ever before of producing a government that commands widespread legitimacy amongst the electorate.

“Political debate has certainly become unusually polarized and led to a certain lack of civility amongst many politicians that is noteworthy. Two parties are currently in favour of leaving the EU (the Left Party (V) and the Swedish Democrats (SD)) but there is no pronounced shift in that direction amongst the public and it is notable that the former has toned down its approach so that its political programme is not associated in any way with the SD. The focus of most debates has been, and will continue to be, on national issues such as immigration, health, and law and order. The median voter in Sweden has, without doubt, moved to the right over the past four years and, so, putting aside complex government building questions, the result will be a government with priorities and policies shifted to the right. Whether this is a multi- or single-party minority government - and how much influence SD will have - is entirely up in the air.”

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Dr Page has strong ties to research and teaching in Scandinavia and is a visiting researcher fellow at the Department of Government (Uppsala University) and the Institute of Future Studies (Stockholm).

For more information contact:

Andrea Cullis

Media relations manager

E: a.cullis@warwick.ac.uk

M: 07825 314874