Every July, Sweden provides one of the world’s great democratic displays. Politicians of all hues descend on the Baltic island of Gotland for the annual Almedalen festival (1-8 July), meeting voters and debating issues ranging from forestry and fake news to immigration and imams in schools.
But in advance of the general election on 9 September, a spectre haunted this year’s Almedalen. Swedish politics is facing its most severe test for decades. The consensual, egalitarian model that has attracted global admiration is under immense strain.
The most notable sign is the surge in support for the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. Opinion polls suggest the far-right party could potentially double its 2014 vote share (13 per cent), which made it the country’s third-largest party with 49 seats. It is even conceivable that the Sweden Democrats, who recently backed a referendum on EU membership (“Swexit”), could finish first.
The nationalist outfit’s rise has been accompanied by a collapse in support for traditional parties. Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats were once electorally hegemonic, governing for more than 60 years of the 20th century and averaging 45 per cent of the vote (twice exceeding 50 per cent). For the last four years, the party has led a minority government in alliance with the Greens. But in common with their German, French and Italian counterparts, the Social Democrats are now struggling and are on course for their worst result for more than a century (a recent YouGov poll put them on just 22 per cent).
The centre-right opposition, led by the Moderate Party (on 17 per cent), is faring no better. A four-party alliance, that governed from 2006 to 2014 and passed radical free market reforms, is in danger of fracturing.
How did Swedish politics enter such a disruptive era? [Continue reading…]