After Sweden’s parliamentary election on September 9th, neither of the two largest, centrist parties have been able to cobble together a majority to form a standard coalition government. This is because the Sweden Democrats (SD)—Sweden’s far-right party—won 17.6% of the vote, forcing the right-leaning parties to either join forces with the left or allow the SD to participate in governing the country and shape Swedish policies. The election results are considered a foreseen outcome of the government’s inability to tackle the migration problem within Europe. As all centrist parties have disavowed the SD’s xenophobic approach to immigration, the Swedish parliament has been forced into a grueling deadlock.
Immigration remains controversial in Swedish politics. What was once an open and welcoming welfare state is now a country re-examining its policies on foreign admittance into the country. The Social Democrats’ coalition in 2015 nearly fractured when the party made a U-turn on immigration policy, tightening admittance into the country and reducing the number of refugees who would qualify for Swedish asylum. The center-right Alliance coalition is also torn, with the smaller coalition parties demanding immigration policy centered on humanitarian principles and family reunification, while the Moderate Party is pushing a platform wherein asylum seekers must apply for sanctuary in the European Union (EU) from outside the Schengen, in “safe” territories. The SD have seen an opening for collaboration with the Moderate Party on their current immigration platform. However, in an active attempt to keep the far-right out of government, both Prime Minister Löfven and the head of the Moderates, Ulf Kristersson, support a compromise that would see a minority government hold power. But, so far, they have been unable to agree on which of the leading coalition-bodies (center-right or left) should be in charge.
To breathe life into what was then a two-month-long dialogue, the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament gave the Moderate Party the first opportunity to form a government with a vote on Wednesday, November 14. After a week of attempted negotiations, the outcome was 195 votes to 154 to reject the Moderate’s proposal to create a minority government with only the Christian Democrats. The rejection marked the first opposition to a parliament formation on the first parliamentary proposal in modern Swedish history. Now the focus is again on the Social Democrats to create an acceptable coalition. In recent weeks the popularity of the Social Democrats has grown, implying that the general public supports the effort to keep xenophobia out of power.
Source: Sweden election authority via CNN.
Any government formed from this election will face an uphill battle in reconciling a population so deeply divided on issues such as immigration and criminal justice reform. But what we have seen, in contrast to their Alternative für Deutschland equivalents in Germany, the Brexiteers across the sea, and their Visegrád Group allies, Sweden is engaging in a defensive hold on democracy, which deserves observation around the world.
Some critics have seen this stalemate as a weakness in the Swedish electoral system and in the centrist political parties. However, given the political turbulence seen over the past couple of years, there is reason to be optimistic about this political shift, but also to embrace the difficult dialogue taking place amongst the political parties. Democracy is hard work. It requires constant participation on behalf of its constituents, but it also requires politicians to think beyond the simple attainment of power and to work to maintain the foundational democratic pillars of the nation. Sometimes this means saving it from itself. In Poland, Hungary, and Turkey, we have witnessed significant democratic decay, as heads of government have centralized power for personal and political gain and thwarted their rivals through repressive legislation and government overreach. Sweden is actively taking the harder, but more democratic route to solve its growing political debacle.
Regardless of the outcome, Swedish centrist parties have a responsibility to address immigration reform. If they cannot reconcile their differences and propose true policy solutions, the backlash will be even stronger than the September election. They need to find a moderate approach, appeasing those desiring restrictions on entry, and those endorsing the EU quota system. If the parties coalesce against the far-right without proposing any policies that address the growing immigration concerns the SD will increase their parliamentary mandate by even larger numbers. Their party will only become larger, and before long, it will be difficult to build coalitions to keep them out of government.
The views contained herein are the personal opinion of Alix Lawson and do not reflect the views of Freedom House, its management, or its Board of Trustees.
The views expressed in this blog are solely its author’s, and do not necessarily reflect official endorsement or position by the Transatlantic Leadership Network.