Over two months after the Swedish general elections, the implications for the future Swedish government are still unclear. In an unusual turn of events, neither of the major party wings, the leftist Red-Greens and the liberal-conservative Alliance, received a large enough vote share to form a coalition on September 9, leaving the future of the country’s government in limbo. This unprecedented political situation has left Swedes unnerved, given that in previous elections, the first government to be proposed had always been accepted.
Held largely responsible for the situation is the growing popularity of the Sweden Democrats, a right-wing populist party which has more than more its tripled its vote share since its entry into Parliament in 2010 to become the third largest party in the Riksdag after the Swedish Social Democrats and Moderate Party. The Sweden Democrats’ links to white supremacist movements, as well as their controversial immigration policies and Euro-scepticism, have earned them a pariah status in the country’s largely pro-immigration, pro-European political arena.
Before the recent September elections, every other major party had promised not to cooperate with the SD without hesitation, but while their exclusion posed few problems in the past, the Sweden Democrats are now the elephant in the negotiating room, as the various parties’ struggle for power remains unresolved.
In the two months since the election, two possible Prime Ministers, Social Democrat leader and previous PM Stefan Löfven and Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, failed to form a government as both were seen as too partisan to work with parties of the opposite block and too proud to envision a coalition where the Prime Minister was from a different party. With such difficult cooperation between Left and Right, working with the Sweden Democrats might be an alternative for the Alliance, considering that a majority of Swedish conservatives (of the Moderate and Christian Democrat parties in the Alliance) are in favour of such a deal. But while cooperation with the SD would comfortably give the conservative block the votes to get into power without needing to deal with the Red-Greens, it would come at the expense of losing the more centrist factions of the Alliance – something no party is eager to abandon lightly.
The leader of one such Alliance party, Annie Lööf of the Centre Party, was hoped to be moderate enough to be able to cooperate with both sides when she was chosen as the new coalition negotiator (sonderingsperson) on November 15, but last Thursday Lööf abandoned her bid to form a coalition, saying: “In such an unclear parliamentary situation as we have now, one side needs to tolerate the other in order to reach a solution to the question of government. There is currently no basis for this.”
If Sweden fails to gather the necessary support to form a coalition after a final fourth try, it will be facing a snap election. This possibility is worrying, as another election could favour a protest party such as the SD in a political climate where voters might feel frustrated with the mainstream parties. However, even if Sweden manages to avoid a snap election, any potential coalition would likely face years of gridlock in such a polarised political climate. It actually might be preferable for parties to roll the dice and see who comes out on top, even with the risk that the Sweden Democrats get the largest winnings.
It is now up to Parliamentary Speaker Andreas Norlén to decide whether to give the negotiations one last go or to call an election. His decision will likely be announced in a press conference on Friday at 10 am.
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