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Sweden has trodden ground that was prepared in Germany and Italy with the marked ascendancy of the far-right in Sunday’s election. The striking feature of the outcome must be that while there are many losers, there are no spectacular winners. A coalition is almost inevitable as in Germany, but the process will take a while to attain fruition given the fractious nature of the polity. The complexion of the coalition can scarcely be predicted quite yet; it shall not be easy for the country to have a functioning government any time soon.
Ergo, Sweden seems headed for what has been called a “chaotically stable’ phase in politics. Palpably enough, the voters have given the xenophobic Sweden Democrats a boost, a commentary on the general, largely nationalist, concern over migrants and the resultant pressure on the economy. Of critical moment is the fact that the party now holds the balance of power in Parliament.
Equally, the Moderates, the mainstream rightwing party, once close to David Cameron’s Conservatives, has suffered a drubbing. The psephological swing reaffirms that the electorate has moved rightwards further still, with one in five voters supporting the Sweden Democrats, which has strengthened its fort to become the third largest party. Overall, the result must be disconcerting for the mainstream parties and not merely the Moderates.
The Social Democrats, who were for most of the 20th century the hegemonic force in Swedish politics and ruled the country for 44 years continuously, have now slumped to their lowest vote ~ 28 per cent ~ since the advent of universal suffrage. The Social Democrats remain the largest single party in the country but are a long way from the dominance they once took for granted. Dramatic indeed has been the plummeting of the hitherto ruling party’s fortunes.
In the wake of the migrants crisis, there is a degree of populism in the agenda of the Sweden Democrats. The far-right has attacked both the political elite and immigrants. A welter of issues have influenced the results. Aside from the question of immigration, the health service was consistently judged to be the most important issue; in certain parts of the country, immigration was accorded a lower priority than education and equality.
As in Germany, the generous open-door policy that greeted the refugees has over time been vehemently opposed as the welfare cuts have been biting. But thankfully, this has had no impact on the democratic construct. Yet unmistakable is the message of the election ~ social democracy must of necessity be revived. And this is as relevant to Sweden as it is to the rest of Europe. The blend of patriotism with internationalism is at best a convenient patchwork quilt, at worst a divisive formula. Sweden’s far-right has thus proved a point.