Sweden is known as one of the most stable and uneventful democracies in the western world. For decades the country has maintained a Scandinavian welfare state model based on high taxes and low income inequality. The center-left Social democrats have been the giant in Swedish politics for as long as anyone care to remember, however only minor adjustments have been made politically doing intermittent periods when the center-right Moderates have managed to take power in the cold northern European country stretching up beyond the arctic circle.
Neighboring countries refer to Sweden as the definition of politically correct, as the land of the forbidden and similar. It all boils down to a political system in which everyone has had a basic consensus about priorities, agendas and economic policies.
Swedish Corrosion of Consensus
New winds are blowing over Sweden and the political system however. An ever increasing pressure on the borders from refugees during the last few years have seemingly corroded the long lasting consensus about the fundamentals.
The Social Democrats won the latest general election on September 14. At least on paper. New party leader Stefan Löfven was elected prime minister after receiving support from 31% of the voters for his party. The Social Democratic government is further backed by normal alliance partners the Miljöpartiet (The Green Party, an environmentalist left leaning party), further left wing democratic socialists of Vänsterpartiet (the Left Party) and the Feminist Party (yes, they have a feminist party in Sweden), though the latter failed to gain any seats in parliament.
This time around however the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party failed to gain a majority in parliament. Normally that would spell a period of ministerial seats for the center-right alliance consisting of the centrist conservative party Moderaterne (the Moderates) led by former primeminister Fredrik Löfkvist at the time, the conservative Christian Democratic Party, the agrarian liberal Center Party and the classic economic liberals of The Liberal Party.
Not this time! The center-right coalition chose to hand the prime minister-ship to the Social Democrats in return for collaboration, some would say control over, on economic matters. An unprecedented abstention from power. What led to it? The Swedish Democrats!
Electoral Breakthrough of The Swedish Democrats
The Swedish Democrats would likely have backed a center-right government given the alternatives. But the center right parties preferred being in opposition when faced with that or Swedish Democrat influence on their policies. Why? Because the Swedish Democrats is part of the so-called dirty right or far right wave that has been sweeping Europe in recent years.
The policy of Swedish Democrats is classic far-right populism. They demand a complete stop to acceptance of asylum seekers first and foremost. According to the Swedish Democrats special rights for minorities such as the Sami people must be revoked. Legal penalties must be significantly heightened to include the possibility of life without parole. Anti-EU sentiments are integral to the nationalist tone of the Swedish Democrats who among other things reject the EURO, oppose Turkish membership of the EU and demand renegotiations of Swedish membership.
On top of the normal far-right anti-immigration, nationalistic, anti-EU and tough on crime stances the Swedish Democrats have several locally tailored political messages as well such as lower taxes for Swedish elderlies, allowing hunters to shoot wolves and much more besides.
In the general scheme of things the Swedish Democrats are thus a far-right party along the lines of French Front National, German Alternative For Germany, the Danish Peoples Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the True Finns and many more besides.
Significance of The Swedish Democrats
There are far-right parties on the fringe all over Europe. What is the significance of the Swedish Democrats ?
First and foremost they are an abrupt and complete break with the normal running of things politically in Sweden. The debate is usually incredibly civil, politically correct and cautious. Not so with boisterous Swedish Democrats. They yell what few others even dared to think until recently. Secondly the political topics thrown on the table by SD signify a break with all consensus policies on immigration, asylum seekers, EU and much more besides.
This is something entirely unseen hitherto in Swedish politics. Few political leaders seemingly have a clue how to deal with it or respond to it either. So far the establishments on both sides of the aisle have tried to simply silencing the unwanted voice by attempting to exclude them from debates, not joining in discussions raised by SD and keeping them from power by the two usually competing sides joining to keep them from influence.
The Swedish Democrats became the third largest party with 12,9% of the vote. In itself a fairly limited success one would think. However it gave them the swing seats between the two traditional blocks in Swedish politics. Thus creating a necessity for unity across the aisle to keep them from power.
Preserving Status Quo in Swedish Politics ?
The efforts to preserve a status quo by all establishment parties has so far proved a boomerang. Prime minister Stefan Löfven has labelled the Swedish Democrats neo-fascist. All parties have refused to debate them, enter into any deals or coalitions with them locally or in the national parliament. In short: They have been sidelined completely.
The effect? They have been handed the gift being able to portray themselves as victims of political oppression. As the ultimate anti-establishment party daring to voice the truth covered over by the mainstream parties.
The voters reactions? They are flocking to the Swedish Democrats like never before. Polling is often showing the Swedish Democrats as the largest party in Sweden come the next election with an opinion polling peak of staggering 28.8%. The average of polls have them closer to 20-22% making them a likely second party in Sweden, but it still raises serious questions.
Can a party with perhaps a quarter of the vote be kept away from influence continuously ? If they were, would they simply keep growing ? Are the established political parties particularly from the center-right block gonna start making overtures to the far-right Swedish Democrats in order to regain power themselves ? Or are they instead gonna attempt stemming the tide by moving their own policy positions closer to those of SD ?
Time will tell. For now. Nobody seems to have a viable strategy for stopping the wave of far-right populism from the Swedish Democrats. Most even seem scared to try. Swedish politics have been upended by the refugee crisis. It remains to be seen how much political capital the Swedish Democrats will muster on the coattails of the crisis. For now. They have upper hand. The momentum.
UPDATE: Latest Swedish Opinion Polls
The latest opinion polling data in Sweden. It paints the picture described above. Sverige Demokraterne peaks at 28.8% but are generally in the low 20s. Neither side look like they have any chance of forming a working majority government without the Swedish Democrats