Elisabeth Lindberg of the Swedish Social Democrats writes on the upcoming Swedish elections.
It was going to be the election with the certain outcome. As in many recent European elections the hardcore right-wing party was thought to be the dominating force. Both political sides had prepared for it. With one week to go before the polls close on the 9th of September all the established parties except for the Left Party seem to be heading towards historically low results. The Sweden Democrats will have grown in support for the third election in a row.
It seems as though the 2018 election campaign will be remembered as one where nothing was certain. No clear government alternatives, no agreement on what the pressing issues facing Sweden really are. It is not how the election year began however.
In the last days of January, the Social Democrats released a very criticised election strategy focusing almost entirely on law and order. At that time the support for the Sweden Democrats showed levels around 20-25 percent in the polls. The centre-right Moderates was doing all the party could to launch their party leader as the saviour of the nation, somebody who really could see all the Swedish problems without shying away. The problems were almost entirely seen as sprung from too high levels of migration.
Since then both main opponents have lost a great deal of support. The Moderates might lose its position as the second largest party in parliament and the Social Democrats is facing its worst election result as a party ever. Many disappointed Social Democrats have disappeared to the Left Party, which is polling at high numbers. We are in for a messy post-election period where the formation of a new government might take some time to figure out.
At the same time there are great challenges ahead. But what these challenges really consist of and how they therefore should best be tackled is a constant battle between the parties. The Sweden Democrats of course blames every issue on migration. Meanwhile the Left party speaks of rising inequality and privatisations as reasons why the welfare state does not seem to be working as well as it should be. These positions are quite clear, which could be a reason why voters have taken to them.
Neither the Moderates nor the Social Democrats have really been able to form a coherent analysis of what future either party actually wants. More or less they have spent the entire election year fighting on whether the other is painting too bleak a picture of Sweden, or on the contrary turning a blind eye to unemployment and social unrest.
The fighting is getting nowhere, or so at least the Social Democrats seems to have understood when prime minister Stefan Löfven released the election manifesto on the 28th of August. It was a mix of welfare reforms and measures to prevent and combat crimes, but the focal point – giving parents extended leave to be with their children when school or kindergarten is closed – is classic Social Democratic policy. It will give the party something else to talk about during the last week, leaving the Moderates behind to consider their own lack of ideas.
But it is when the polls close on the 9th of September that thereally interesting debates begin. First of all, the question of whether the centre-right coalition will actually try to form a government supported by the Sweden Democrats. Second, what the Social Democrats will do to restore itself as the main party of Swedish politics and if that is even possible. The union-backed think tank Katalys has done a major effort to invoke a new class analysis into the Labour movement, whichhas potential to create a refreshing post-election debate on inequality and economic policy.
Last but not least I think we will see the demise of the centre-right in Sweden. The coalition of four parties are currently supported by a share of voters smaller than the Social Democrats alone had only ten years ago. If this trend continues we could well see future election campaigns where the main opponents are the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats.
Despite the low support for the Social Democrats at the moment, the potential and the richness of ideas floating around in the Swedish Labour movement carries hope for the future. Nothing like it can be seen within the opposing team. And if the Social Democrats thereby can unarm the Sweden Democrats of their most efficient weapons – fear and hopelessness – the future in Sweden could be very bright.
Elisabeth Lindberg is an Economic historian, editorial writer, and former political advisor to the Swedish Social Democrats.