Monday, December 8, 2014

Sweden 2015-The end of the two-coalition system as we know it (for now)

Sweden's 2014 election was covered before on this blog, but another one is taking place at the initiative of the Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven. Lofven, a Social Democrat who formed a minority government after the 2014 election, has called an election for the 22nd of March in 2015.

The 2014 election resulted in a 'victory' for the Social Democrats, at least in the sense of being the largest party. However, the Social Democrats won only 31% of the vote and 113 seats in the 349 member Riksdag (Swedish parliament). Exempting 2010, this is the worst result for the Social Democrats since 1914.

The main opposition Moderate Party, who governed from 2006 to 2014 in alliance with the centre-right Christian Democrat, Centre and Liberal parties, did poorly in the 2014 election. They won 23.3% of the vote and 84 seats. The result is the worst since 2002; the Swedish centre-right is more diverse than the left, and votes transfer between the four right-leaning parties more fluidly.

So, why all these bad results for the two largest parties in Sweden? Well, as explained in the previous post, the reason is all to do with the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats. The party, traditionally marginalised in Sweden's political environment, entered the Riksdag with 5.7% of the vote in the 2010 election and won 20 seats.

The party's policies, attacking immigrants and the European Union while strongly supporting welfare programs were unattractive in the boom times of the 2000s, and irrelevant in the long period of Social Democrat government before Europe and immigration became problems.

However, the Global Financial Crisis gave new life to far-right and far-left movements across Europe. Established parties like the Irish Fianna Fail party and the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal were decimated, and government formation was complicated in countries that needed stability.

In 2010, the Sweden Democrats had no impact on government formation. A poor performance by the Social Democrats allowed the Moderate-led government to win a minority government, which was able to keep the government in office for the full term.

However, the 2014 results were inconclusive. The left (Social Democrats, Greens, Left Party) won 159 seats, the centre-right won 141 seats, and the remaining 49 seats went to the Sweden Democrats. Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven nonetheless became Prime Minister in a coalition with the Green Party.

To some extent, the coalition was doomed the moment it was formed. While Social Democrat-Greens  relations were cordial, the coalition simply did not have the votes. 138 votes, just 40% of the Riksdag, is simply not enough for a government.

Lofven's budget was defeated on the third of December with 182 votes against and 153 votes for and the Sweden Democrats and all centre-right parties voting against. After this defeat, it was blatantly obvious that the government could not continue. Lofven called a press conference, and announced that an election would take place on the 22nd of March.

Why an election?

The question is an obvious one. The Sweden Democrats are polling well, with about 14% on average. Another election would only slightly worsen the position of all moderate political parties at the expense of the Sweden Democrats. 

Well, there may be a personal motive for Lofven. A big Sweden Democrat presence, and complete ungovernability for either coalition could give reason for a 'grand coalition', obviously led by the Social Democrats. A government comprised of the Moderate and Social Democrat parties, with another small party (perhaps the Liberals) supporting them would have 216 seats, and would be more stable, at least in terms of a parliamentary majority.

Also, it is important to remember that Lofven, at the moment, has no choice. An inability to pass a budget, and the intransigence of the centre-right means that he is unable to control the current parliament. An election is the only way out, and the possibility of a grand coalition is too slim in the current parliament to delay such an election.

The end of the two-coalition system

For the last 8 years, Swedish elections have been contested between two vague coalitions. The centre-right coalition, called the Alliance for Sweden, is comprised of the Liberal Party (liberalism, pro-Europe), the Moderate Party (conservative), the Christian Democrats (social conservatism), and the Centre Party (liberalism, agrarianism). The centre-left coalition, formerly known as the Red-Greens, is comprised of the Social Democrats (centre-left, social democratic), the Green Party (left-wing, green politics), and the Left Party (post-communist, radical leftist). 

However, this comfortable two-party style competition has ended abruptly with the rise of the Sweden Democrats. This is similar to Italy, where the rise of the 5 Star Movement has meant that neither the left nor the right is able to hold a majority. 

What does this mean? Well, it means that, at least for now, coalitions that bridge the divide between the left and the right will be the norm.

Austria is in a similar situation. The Social Democrats and People's Party are currently in a grand coalition, after neither party were able to form government due to the presence of the far-right liberal Freedom Party. This coalition has reduced the support of both parties at the expense of the Freedom Party and other right-wing populist parties.

A grand coalition will be bad for all parties in it, as the Austrian and German examples have shown. However, it will be necessary to have one, to ensure that Sweden has stable government and fewer snap elections.


  1. Or the Alliance can end the self-righteous cordon sanitaire around SD. Just a few small agreements would ensure their support, and it may well prove costlier to SD than to the Alliance.

    1. Interesting idea, but I don't know if the Liberal or Centre parties, both pro-immigration, will want to deal with the Sweden Democrats, and a loss of either of those parties would be a big hit to the Alliance.

    2. No, I agree with you that it's not likely to happen.


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