GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 663, 18 September 2022

Sweden: 2022 elections reflect political polarization
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
 On 11 September, under the election authority of Sweden elections to the Riksdag and municipal and regional councils were conducted. 
On 15 September, the vote count revealed the victory of the right-wing coalition which won 176 seats out of 349 in the parliament, while Magdalena Andersson's (Social Democrats) center-left coalition lost by a margin with 173 seats. 
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson resigned from her position and said: "I know that a lot of Swedes are concerned. I see your concern and I share it." Upon the right-wing's support to the Moderate party leader, Ulf Kristersson will form the government. The Sweden Democrats leader, Jimmie Akesson said: "It is time to start rebuilding security, prosperity, and cohesion. It's time to put Sweden first."

What is the background?
First, Sweden's political landscape. In the last two decades, the political landscape of Sweden has drastically changed with the stepping in of new parties. From five, increasing to eight parties, differences have plunged between the long-established and newly formed. Such shifts have brought focus to "socio-economic," and "socio-cultural" challenges and platforms to deploy them. The original tussle existed between the traditional social democrats and the conservative alliance led by the moderates, but this equation took a shift with the intervention of Sweden Democrats. Once known as a welfare state has now joined the league of economic stress, anti-immigrant notion, and political polarization. Taking the election results from 2002 to 2022 shows the consistency of the social democrats, followed by the moderate party (except 2022) in winning the majority. While Left and Center parties have a fluctuating proportion between six to eight per cent, never had the record of going above 10. In the case of liberals, Christian democrats and the greens, have slowly declined without much variation. 

Second, troubled social democrats. The Social Democrats being the oldest political party since 1889, set its failing trajectory from the 1990 Balkan refugee crisis, and 2010 when the Sweden Democrats gained their place in the legislative. Greens supporting the budget proposed by the Sweden Democrats and quitting the party, brought out the fragmentation in the left wing. Apart from the internal complexities, the slow rise of the Sweden Democrats also threatened the position of the left wing. 

Third, the rise of the right. The Sweden Democrats formed in 1988, later than the Social Democrats planned its rise steady to win the 2022 elections. In the 2018 and 2014 elections, the competition prevailed only between the Social Democrats and the Moderates, while the Sweden Democrats slowly gained ground from 2014 to2022. The major reasons are its key target of anti-immigration, preserving Sweden's identity, and Russia and US's far-right influence. With its anti-immigration as the main focus, the party reflected its stand on the Muslim, Balkan, and Middle-Eastern refugees and pushed its "Zero tolerance" policy to address the racism and extreme xenophobia which grew with the rise in the migrant population. 

What does this mean?
First, the increased influence of Russia and the US's far-right. With Social Democrats still maintaining the majority, Russia's polarization of western countries and influence of the US's far-right groups will continue to increase in forms of media, and disinformation campaigns to strengthen the right-wing image.

Second, scuffled decision-making. The historic existence of a difference between the moderates, liberal and Christian parties will undermine the policy agenda of Sweden Democrats. Especially in terms of dealing with crimes, the education system, deportation of immigrants, welfare benefits, and energy needs. The balancing act will dwell upon the Moderates to negotiate the differences and bring consensus. 
Third, stricter immigrant measures and upholding of Sweden's culture. The non-Nordic immigrant from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and communities such as "Somalitowns, Chinatowns, and Little Italies" are probable to face stricter immigrant and deportation rules in the coming years. The core agenda of the coalition is keeping Sweden first, the migrant count which increased during the 1990s and 2015 is set to reduce radically.