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The Struggle To Form a Swedish Government

On 9 September 2018, Swedish voters went to the polls. Yet, more than three months on, the country is no closer to forming a government. With multiple rounds of negotiations and a few (unsuccessful) votes on prime ministerial candidates, it seems that the country’s traditional two-bloc political system is on the brink of collapse. At its core lies the emergence of an increasingly tripolar electorate, bringing fissures within each party to a head.

The growing success of the nationalist party, the Sweden Democrats (SD-ECR) has prevented both the centre-left and the centre-right blocs from gaining an outright parliamentary majority. As opposed to neighbouring Denmark and Norway, where governing coalitions include nationalist parties, the Swedish centre to centre-right Alliansen bloc (consisting of M-EPP, C-ALDE, KD-EPP and L-ALDE) has refused to form a coalition with the Sweden Democrats. However, the degree to which the four individual parties oppose any cooperation, including a confidence and supply deal, varies significantly.

Alliansen has become divided into two factions concerning the question of cooperation with the Sweden Democrats. On the one hand are the Moderate party (M-EPP), who are open to a confidence and supply deal with the Sweden Democrats yet opposed to formal cooperation in a governing coalition (the previous leader of the Moderates resigned following backlash against her exploration of cooperating with the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats (KD-EPP)). On the other hand, the Centre Party (C-ALDE) and the Liberals (L-ALDE) have vehemently opposed even informal support out of fear of Sweden Democrat control.

The deep divisions within Alliansen are reflected by the voter base of each of the parties. According to an Inizio poll commissioned by the newspaperAftonbladet, 72% of Christian Democratic voters wish to see the right-wing coalition govern with support from the Sweden Democrats, while only 25% of Liberal party voters agreed. Amongst Centre Party voters, the figure is a mere 8%. Consequently, the latter two parties face a dilemma: either backtrack on their pledge (and risk losing voters at the next election) and form a government with support from the Sweden Democrats, or break their other pledge and reject an Alliansen government in favour of a Social Democrat-led coalition government. The likelihood of the latter, however, is being increasingly strained as the two parties have yet to come to terms with the Social Democrats (S-S&D).

For the Social Democrats and the Greens (MP-G/EFA), who govern with support from the Left Party (V-GUE/NGL), the choice is much simpler. According to that  Inizio poll cited above, 90% of those who voted for Rödgröna (Red-Greens) bloc are opposed to governing with the Sweden Democrats. A proposed solution has been a grand coalition featuring the two largest parties, i.e. the Social Democrats and the Moderates. This idea has even been advanced by  former Social Democratic and Moderate ministers of finance. Despite this, the Social Democrats are wary of such a solution following the severe electoral losses incurred by their sister parties in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands following similar arrangements. As a result, the possibility of forming a governing majority becomes all the more difficult.

Figures published in December 2018 by Statistics Sweden (a government agency) show that support for parties have remained mostly static, with parties experiencing only 1% change on average, with two somewhat notable exceptions: the Social Democrats who have gone up three percentage points and the Sweden Democrats have gone down four. As such, snap elections are unlikely to produce any material changes on elections earlier this year. In addition, high voter turnout in recent election cycles makes it even less likely that mobilisation of new voters would have any meaningful impact as it might otherwise have in other countries.

Despite informal attempts to portray otherwise, Alliansen remains divided. Divides over immigration policy had already begun before the election, such as when the Centre Party broke ranks to vote in favour of the Social Democratic/Green proposal to offer amnesty to 9,000 failed Afghan asylum seekers just months before the election. If a stable governing majority is not produced and party voters have not fundamentally altered their views on questions such as this, it is increasingly likely that a government will be harder and harder to find. Bills may have to be voted on an issue by issue basis with each producing a new ad hoc coalition rather than consistent bloc-based political support, as has been present in Swedish politics in the past.

Naman is a guest writer for Europe Elects, and is a freelance writer based in the UK

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