Swedish voters resist pressure to abandon successful system



Nordic Model Receives
Strong Vote of Confidence

The two undisputed winners firmly embraced the traditional values of the Nordic model
IN THE NATIONAL ELECTION on September 20th, a majority of Swedish voters signalled that they want a return to the values and principles which, according to a recent report of the U.N. Development Program, have yielded the highest level of social equality and the lowest rate of poverty in the world. That message was clearly reflected in the unprecedented success of the Left and Christian Democratic parties, which more than doubled their share of the vote.

The Conservatives lost out to a message that emphasised concern for the less fortunate and a strengthening of the general welfare system

As noted elsewhere on this web site (see Sweden's Political Spectrum), the political message of the Left Party now resembles something very like traditional social democracy. Its strong surge during the final weeks of the election campaign was largely the result of defections from an increasingly market-oriented Social Democratic Party (SDP), which experienced its lowest figures since 1920.

Although nominally on the right wing of the political spectrum, the Christian Democrats also made strong advances during the final stages of the campaign by drawing voters from the neo-liberal Conservative Party with a message that emphasised concern for the less fortunate and a strengthening of the general welfare system.

Thus, the two undisputed winners of the election firmly embraced the traditional values of the Nordic model of society, providing distinct alternatives for voters on both the left and right who reject the neo-liberalism that has dominated Swedish and global politics since the end of the Cold War.

All of the parties that defended the neo-liberal policies of recent years suffered defeat. In addition to the SDP, these include the Centre and Liberal parties, both of which continued their steady decline. The Conservatives' share of the vote increased by half a percentage point; but that was nowhere near the opinion ratings of around 35 percent that the party was getting less than a year ago. Given that drastic reduction in popularity, the disastrous showing of their principal opponent, the SDP, and the great expectations attached to party leader Carl Bildt, the slight increase has been interpreted as a serious failure.

The Greens have acquired a strong bargaining position


(In parentheses: results of 1994 election)

 Party % of Total Vote  Seats in Riksdag 
 Conservative 22.7 (22.2)  82 (80) 
 Centre 5.1 (7.6)  18 (27) 
 Liberal 4.7 (7.2)  17 (26) 
 Chr. Democratic  11.8 (4.1) 42 (15) 
 Green 4.5 (5.0)  16 (18) 
 Left 12.0 (6.2)   43 (22) 
 Soc. Democratic 36.6 (45.4)  131 (161)  

Total seats in Riksdag = 349
For brief sketches of the parties, see
Sweden's Political Spectrum.

Despite its poor showing, the SDP remains the largest party and will continue to run the government


What Big Business seems to fear most is a rebirth of genuine social democracy

Minority government

Together, the SDP and the Left will have 174 seats in the new Riksdag, one short of a majority. That single parliamentary vote places the Green Party, with its 16 seats, in a bargaining position nearly as strong as the Left's. The right bloc, consisting of the Conservative, Christian Democratic, Liberal and Centre parties will have a total of 159 seats-- although there remain some doubts concerning the eventual loyalties of the Centre Party.

Despite its poor showing, the SDP remains the largest of the seven parties; it has sixty percent more seats in the Rikdag than the next largest party. It intends to continue in power, most likely as a minority government. This has long been the normal situation elsewhere in Norden and Europe. During the next few days, and possibly weeks, the SDP will be negotiating with the Left and Green parties over the details of future co-operation.

As the former Communist Party, the Left is apparently resigned to the fact that its formal participation in a coalition government is unlikely, since that would provide "The Market" with an excuse to punish the Swedish people for allowing the Left to receive so many votes. This, despite the fact that the party's ideology is currently nothing more alarming than traditional social democracy. The same industrialists who are so eager to do business with the still very red and dictatorial China refuse to acknowledge the democratic advances of Sweden's social democratic Left, whose current leader is part-owner of a small business and has joined the Swedish Confederation of Employers (see Fearing Ms. Gudrun).

Very likely, what lies behind this peculiar behaviour is not fear of communism's return from the dead, but rather anxiety over a possible rebirth of social democracy. Having manoeuvred the SDP into a neo-liberal corner (see Major Issues), the economic elite is not prepared to tolerate the emergence of a genuine social democratic alternative in some other nook of the political establishment.

There is some question as to how much real power remains in the hands of the democratic majority

Related articles:
political spectrum

Major issues

Neglected issues

Additional matters

Fearing Gudrun
The first 100 days

Predictable reactions

That disposition can be read in the immediate reaction of "The Market", which communicated its displeasure the day after the election by hiking interest rates and weakening the Swedish krona-- allegedly in anxiety over the SDP's weakened position, and the "risk" that the Left will demand renewed investment in the public sector as the price of its co-operation. The fact that a democratic majority clearly approves of such investments is, as usual, of no concern to the elite that dominates financial markets.

Another predictable response was that of former finance minister, Kjell-Olof Feldt, who immediately staked out the interests of the SDP's narrow but influential neo-liberal wing by urging the party leadership to seek support in the centre, rather than on the left. Party chairman Ingela Thalén's first reaction to that proposal was to note that the voters had clearly demonstrated a leftward preference.

But Feldt and his neo-liberal cronies have never displayed any particular interest in what the voters think. They know better, and can be expected to continue exerting financial and propaganda pressure on the Swedish government to ignore the will of the people and submit to the power of the financial markets on which it has, by a series of decisions (see Major Issues and Neglected Issues), made itself and the nation dependent.

Events of the next few years will likely disclose how much genuine power remains in the hands of Sweden's democratic majority, as opposed to the economic power exercised by the considerably more narrow interests of the neo-liberal elite.

— Al Burke   

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