The Moderate Party's record high election result was not enough to achieve an outright majority for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's center–right alliance. Photo: Jessica Gow/Scanpix
In the general election of September 19, 2010, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt became the first conservative prime minister to win for the second time running — albeit with no outright majority for his center–right alliance. In addition, his Moderate Party very nearly became Sweden's largest party, instead of a distant second to the traditionally dominant Social Democrats. The Moderate Party garnered 30.06 percent, far ahead of previous results of around 20 percent. The result was widely seen as a vote of confidence for Reinfeldt.
The Social Democrats declined to its lowest percentage of votes since World War I. The party got 30.66 percent of the vote, far below previous results of around 40 percent.
Historic Social Democratic defeat
The 2010 election was a gloomy event for Mona Sahlin and her Social Democrats. Photo: Claudio Breciani/Scanpix
Reinfeldt claimed victory for his alliance, while the Social Democratic leader Mona Sahlin, who had hoped to become Sweden's first female prime minister, acknowledged defeat. "We have had a truly lousy result," she told supporters.
Sahlin has come under severe criticism from her own party members, but denied she was about to resign. "A leader is a leader in good times and bad. Now the times are bad. I am still leader.”
To an American or British reader Sweden might seem to harbor a confusing array of parties. But in fact, the election presented a clear alternative between left and right. The three leftist parties — the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party — opposed the government coalition of the four center–right parties — the Moderate Party, the Center Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.
But, although the right clearly beat the left, the election leaves Sweden with no clear parliamentary majority. At 173 seats, the four party center–right alliances ended up just shy of the 175 seats needed for a majority. The opposing leftist coalition gained 156 seats. Meanwhile, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats gained 20 seats and control of a swing vote.
“It's certainly not a perfect result,” Reinfeldt told reporters, while his antagonist Mona Sahlin called it “an election without winners.”
No cooperation with Sweden Democrats
Both right and left have categorically stated that they will not seek support from the Sweden Democrats, a party they regard as irresponsible and xenophobic.
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson campaigning before the election. Photo: Johnny Söderberg/Flickr
"We will not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats. We will not make ourselves dependent on them," Reinfeldt told party members at the post-election gathering.
The Sweden Democrats have called Muslim immigration the biggest threat to Sweden's national security since World War II, and proposed a 90 percent reduction in immigration of refugees and immigration on the grounds of family ties.
"We are in parliament. We got in!" Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson told television reporters as overjoyed supporters chanted his name. “I am overwhelmed. We’ve made history, I … I don't quite know what to say,” the 31-year-old party leader said.
Appeal to the Green Party
The lack of a clear majority now compels Prime Minister Reinfeldt to seek new partners. On election night he appealed to the Green Party to enter into negotiations with him. But Green Party spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand remained skeptical. “Are we supposed to govern with a coalition who builds lots of highways, with lousy environmental policies? What would our voters say?”
With the result of this election, Sweden has become the latest in a row of European nation where populist right-wingers enter parliament. Until now, Swedish voters have not given the Sweden Democrats sufficient support to overcome the 4 percent constitutional threshold needed to enter parliament.
Sharper political division
The intense controversy surrounding the Sweden Democrats — very noticeable on Facebook and in blogs — may have contributed to the high voter turnout of 84.63 percent. The 2010 election is likely to mark the beginning of an era of sharper political division in Sweden.
Already on Monday morning, the day after the election, an impromptu campaign against the Sweden Democrats on the internet and via cell phones called for a manifestation in central Stockholm on Tuesday, September 21.
“A new political landscape” — reflections on the election result
Li Bennich-Björkman, professor of political science at Uppsala University, comments the Swedish 2010 election: “It's an entirely new political landscape.”
She thinks Sweden's politics may have changed for good. “I can't imagine that the Social Democrats will regain their dominance,” she says. “Or that the Sweden Democrats will disappear as a political force any time soon. Their party base is too strong.”
At the same time, the ruling center–right coalition gained power by moving to the left, taking up some positions previously held by the Social Democrats.
“The prime minister abandoned some positions,” Bennich-Björkman says, “to the extent that I wouldn't even want to call the ruling coalition a right-wing bloc — it’s liberal, not conservative. They also garnered votes through handling the economic crisis of 2008 quite competently.”
Bennich-Björkman also says that from an international perspective, the right-wing Sweden Democrats are social conservatives, with an anti-immigration and anti-EU twist. “They long for a Sweden that once was.”
Most Swedish newspapers picked up on Bennich-Björkman's themes:
“The Social Democrats will never own Sweden again,” the liberal Göteborgs-Posten wrote in an opionion piece. The national liberal daily Dagens Nyheter agreed, calling these elections ”the end of an era.”
The Social Democratic local paper Västerbottens Folkblad called the election “nasty,” “a step ahead for egoism, a step back for solidarity,” while the large Social Democratic tabloid Aftonbladet called it ”a nightmare come true.”
The liberal tabloid Expressen wrote of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats: “The banner of tolerance is being hauled down; the forces of darkness have at last taken even Sweden's democracy hostage.” In its opinion piece, the paper urges Reinfeldt to call the Green Party leaders immediately in order to form a stable government and keep the Sweden Democrats from influencing parliament. ”If the price is to include some Green Party ministers in government and perhaps raise gasoline taxes, he should not hesitate a second.”
Jonas Fredén is a freelance journalist who has followed and covered politics for major Swedish magazines since the early 1990s. He has never seen such a vitriolic campaign or such political fervor among his Facebook friends. The land of consensus? No more, Jonas says.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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