Garvan Walshe is a Former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.
Swedish elections are a game of four-party blocs. A left wing bloc, led by the Social Democrats, always the largest single party, and a right wing one, led by the Moderates (Sweden used to be so left-leaning that the main centre-right party was forced to operate under a euphemism).
The results, which, at the time of writing, give the right-wing bloc a lead of a single seat, confounded both. The Social Democrat leader and outgoing Prime Minister Martina Andersson’s own party increased its share of the vote, but her coalition partners lost, leaving her one short of a majority.
Ulf Kristersson, the Moderate leader, has the opposite problem, his bloc came out on top, but his party was overhauled by the formerly Neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats. This puts a spanner in the bloc’s plans for a government.
The right wing bloc includes two other parties: the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. The Liberals balk at supporting a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, so the plan had been for a Moderate-Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition with a confidence and supply from the Sweden Democrats.
But the Sweden Democrats, boosted beyond their anti-immigration base by dissatisfaction with the police’s inability to deal with rising gang crime, came first in their bloc, so reasonably enough believe themselves entitled to ministerial office. Going into or even supporting a government with Sweden Democrat ministers is a red line for the Liberals, already squeezed by their willingness to contemplate a Sweden Democrat confidence and supply arrangement.
But it is not entirely straightforward for the Liberals to switch to the Social Democrat led bloc instead (this was what Sweden’s other liberal party, the Centre, did at the last elections), because that bloc includes the essentially Corbynist and, crucially given the Russian threat, anti-NATO Left party.
Worse, if the results hold, the Liberals would only need to suffer a single defection for the right-leaning government to fall. Sacrificing principles for power (even if you’ve already half-sold out those principles to accept Sweden-Democrat confidence and supply) is rather less exciting if the power is unlikely to last.
All this is just Sweden’s version of the decline of two party politics that has been happening everywhere. The old Social Democrat and Christian Democrat parties now need to grub around for support from parties that used to endorse one or other of the totalitarian ideologies responsible for mass murder in Europe during the twentieth century.
The Sweden Democrats have done well out of immigration, de-industrialisation and a sense that traditional values are in decline. If Swedish problems integrating immigrants are not too different from those elsewhere, the uniquely Swedish element is extremely serious organised crime, which the Swedish police have been unable to get a handle on.
They have struggled to crack down on gang violence that has grown to involve shootings and car bombings. Though the debate in Sweden focuses on surveillance powers, and an unwillingness to admit there were problems integrating minorities, incompetence and institutional complacency have a large role to play.
It’s a problem that would be best addressed by a grand coalition, which could command the support of enough of the decentralised and consensus-driven Swedish society to bring about the radical reform needed, without relying on the support of the far-left, who would oppose it all, or the far right, whose involvement would alarm small-l as well as big-L liberals.
However, even the Social Democrats and Moderates between them would just reach 175 seats needed for a majority. Though they could probably count on Liberal, Centre and possibly Green support on major votes, it would not be the solid majority needed to push radical change through.
Right now, assuming the final results from early and postal ballots don’t change the bloc totals, the first attempt at cobbling together a working majority will probably fall to Jimmie Akersson, leader of the Sweden Democrats. But even if he does, his will be a rickety governing contraption vulnerable to a single Liberal or even Moderate defection.
Expect long negotiations followed by instability and perhaps another poll in a few months. At least Sweden’s NATO membership has already gone through.