A tale of two votes.

AuthorMilner, Henry

Sweden, September 14

Sweden's election resulted in a narrow victory for the "Red-Green coalition" led by the Social Democrats over the centre-right Alliance led by the Moderate Party (conservatives). However, this victory may prove short-lived, in part because the populist Sweden Democrats (SD) hold the balance of power, having come in third with just under 13 per cent.

Red-Green promised more funding for schools and welfare and accused the Alliance, which had introduced tax cuts and social welfare reforms, of making Sweden more unequal. Sweden's economy has done well, but that failed to convince a sufficient number of voters to give the Alliance a third term. Many felt that Sweden could afford to spend more on welfare, health care and schools, and better tackle youth unemployment. But many other voters focused on Sweden's extremely generous refugee policy, with close to 90,000 refugees accepted this year in a country of 9 million. Only SD opposed this policy, arguing that money should instead be spent on social welfare and humanitarian aid. SD's effective leader, Jimmie Akesson, was able to attract votes from conservative young people in the cities, above and beyond the party's core of supporters in smaller communities in the north and south who feel marginalized in the postmodern world.

SD's success could push outgoing Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's Moderate Party further to the right. Exit polls showed that nearly 30 per cent of SD voters supported the Moderates in 2010, something Reinfeldt's successor will have to take into consideration when deciding whether to continue the policy of refusing to deal with SD. This choice will take place in the context of a parliament in which the Social Democrats and Greens together have only 38 per cent of the seats. To cement the support of the Left party for the coalition, Red-Green will have to adopt policies such as reducing state support for privately owned schools, hospitals and old-age care facilities. This would alienate the small middle-of-the-road parties in the centre-right Alliance, the Liberals and Centre, whose cooperation Social Democratic Leader Stefan Lofven may need. The Alliance threatened to present an alternative joint budget this autumn, which could defeat the government if SD supports it--but this is unlikely since it will include large increases in spending on asylum seekers. Nevertheless, for the first time in 30 years, an elected Swedish government might not survive the full four-year term.

How Swedes elect a government

Sweden has a parliamentary system like Canada, with fixed four-year terms, with the government formed and led by the leader of the largest party in parliament. Because it has a proportional electoral system, these are almost always coalition governments. Each party has a clear program emphasizing specific priorities, some of which are incorporated formally or informally into the joint program of the two potential ruling coalitions.

In Sweden, voters simultaneously select their local, regional and national representatives, from regional-district lists drawn up by each party. In the city of Stockholm, for example, there are six such regional districts electing between 10 and 20 representatives to the local and regional councils and the parliament. If in one of these a party wins, say, 15 per cent of the vote, and...

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