Due to time constraints on my part, I can unfortunately fully cover only a few of past and upcoming elections. Next up will be Brazil. I gladly accept guest posts, as always.
Parliamentary, regional and local elections were held in Sweden on September 14, 2014. The main draw of the election was, naturally, the election of the 349 members of Sweden’s unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag. In addition, voters also elected the members of the county councils (landsting) in 20 counties and municipal councils (kommunfullmäktige) in all 290 kommuner.
Map of Sweden (source: ezilon)
The member of the Riksdag are elected by party-list proportional representation for fixed four-year terms. For electoral purposes, the country is divided into 29 districts – these correspond to Sweden’s 21 counties (län) except in the case of the three most populous counties which are further subdivided: Stockholm County has two districts (the city of Stockholm itself and the county), Scania/Skåne has four districts (Malmö kommun, Skåne west, Skåne south, Skåne north and east) and Västra Götalands has five districts (Gothenburg kommun, Västra Götalands west, Västra Götalands north, Västra Götalands south, Västra Götalands east). Together, the constituencies have 310 ‘fixed constituency seats’ – with district magnitude calculated before every election on the basis of population, with each district now returning between 38 and 2 members. In the first stage, the fixed seats are distributed nationally between parties which have obtained 4% of the vote nationally or 12% in one district, using a modified Saint-Laguë method. In the second stage, a new distribution is made with the same method but taking all 349 seats (only parties which won 4% are taken into account, any fixed seats won by parties which passed the 12% threshold in one district are disregarded), which in turn determines the difference between the fixed seats won and the theoretical national distribution. The remaining 39 seats, called adjustment seats, are distributed between parties to even out the results – parties which won more fixed seats than its theoretical share of the 349 seats, it is disregarded. The adjustment seats are then distributed between the districts.
In all elections, voters may cast one preferential vote for a candidate, who may then be moved up the list and elected on preference vote if he/she has obtained 5% of the party’s vote in the constituency.
Members of county councils and municipal councils are elected using a similar system. Counties are also divided into electoral districts, which return 9/10 of the council’s members with the remaining tenth being adjustment seats. The threshold for representation, however, is 3%. In municipal councils, all seats are ‘fixed seats’ and there is no threshold.
Sweden has 21 counties, but only 20 county councils, because the small island-county of Gotland is made up of only one kommun, which has the responsibilities of a county. County councils’ main responsibility is the provision, financing and management of public healthcare although they also have some other powers related to public transport and regional economic development. The kommun is generally in charge of maintaining local services, some decentralized responsibilities over healthcare management and maintaining local utilities.
Sweden is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Like Denmark, Sweden uses a system of ‘negative parliamentarianism’ – which means that an absolute majority of members must vote against the government or the Speaker’s choice for Prime Minister for it to fall, with any abstentions effectively counting as votes in favour. However, a constitutional amendment passed in November 2010 will now require Prime Ministers to face a vote of confidence in the Riksdag within two weeks of the election, with over half of the members required to vote against for the Prime Ministerial candidate to be rejected. Until now, a government could continue to govern in an unclear parliamentary situation until they could be toppled by a confidence vote.
The Riksdag may be dissolved early under strict conditions. According to Sweden’s Instrument of Government, an ‘extraordinary election’ may be called by the government three months after a newly-elected Riksdag has first convened (and may not be called within three months of a regularly scheduled election) if the Riksdag has rejected the Speaker’s choice for Prime Minister or if a government has lost a motion of no confidence (a caretaker government – ie one which has resigned but remains in office – cannot call an early election). Furthermore, an ‘extraordinary election’ is unlike an early election in other countries – it is basically a giant by-election to fill out of the rest of the regularly-elected Riksdag’s full four-year term, meaning that there is still a regular election four years after the last regularly-scheduled election was held. In this case, this means that there may be an early election between now and 2018, but there is still guaranteed to be an election in September 2018 regardless. An early election has only been held once, in 1958, two years after the regular 1956 election. A regularly-scheduled election was held in 1960.
Parties and Issues
Sweden has a multi-party system, which is traditionally divided into a left-wing bloc and a right-wing, or bourgeois, bloc. The Social Democrats (S), Sweden’s natural governing party, leads the left-wing bloc – but it has lost its dominance on the left, with competition from the Greens (Mp) and the Left Party (V). The Social Democrats have very little history of formal electoral or even government cooperation with other parties. The bourgeois bloc has historically been divided between conservatives, liberals and centrist Nordic agrarians – today’s Moderate Party (M), Liberal People’s Party (Fp) and Centre Party (C), and now the Christian Democrats (KD). Since 2006, these four right-wing parties have formed a coalition government and electoral alliance, known as the Alliance for Sweden. Parties outside these general blocs have emerged from time to time, most recently the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) and Feminist Initiative (F!).
Sweden is often known for its generous welfare state, being taken as the ‘model’ for the so-called universal or social democratic welfare regimes. The generous but costly welfare state, which is very popular in Sweden, has been financed by high taxes – Sweden has one of the highest tax burdens in the world and tax revenues make up for 45% of GDP (the fifth highest level in the EU, after Denmark, Belgium, Austria and France). As a result, Sweden and its neighbors rank highly on various indices or indicators of well-being: high life expectancy, good education systems, high rankings on the HDI, the lowest levels of income inequality in the world and high levels of gender equality. Politically, the Nordic countries are the least corrupt in the world and, in Sweden, trust in political leaders remains high (looking at it from the US or other European countries, it seems as if it’s a whole different planet).
Although taxation and public spending are very high by international standards, Sweden and its Nordic neighbors shouldn’t be seen as ‘tax-and-spend planned economies’ – it ranks highly on indices of ‘economic freedom’, there are few barriers to free trade, the free market economy and private sector is quite vibrant and there is a strong tradition of social partnership which has usually resulted in peaceful labour relations. Sweden is also a very globalized country, with a very strong export economy (look only to internationally-known Swedish firms such as Ikea, Volvo and Ericsson) and a cosmopolitan population (the Nordic countries have the highest numbers of non-native English speakers in Europe). Free-market reformists, such as The Economist, may often look to Sweden as an example.
Reforms in Sweden in the 1990s also resulted in several changes to taxation, pensions, education and the provision of welfare services. A 1990 tax reform significantly reduced income taxes (on labour income) and corporate taxes (which currently stand at 22%) from the high levels of the 1970s-1980s (where the top marginal tax rate was usually 80-85%). The size of Sweden’s public sector has been significantly reduced – Social Democratic governments in the post-war eras famously created a large public sector and in the mid-1990s, government spending accounted for over 65% of GDP. Today, it accounts for 50% or so of GDP. An education reform in 1992 introduced school vouchers, and Swedish parents now have the choice to send their children to public schools or publicly-funded but privately-run free schools which may operate as non-profit or for profit. Sweden’s education reforms have been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. Welfare services such as education, healthcare and senior care have been ‘marketized’ and may be offered by privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) companies. However, scandals about aged care facilities or daycares which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins have opened a huge political debate about ‘profit in welfare’.
The Moderates (Moderaterna, M), formally the Moderate Coalition Party (Moderata samlingspartiet), are the main centre-right party in Sweden, the senior partner in the Alliance for Sweden bourgeois bloc which has governed Sweden since 2006. The Moderates have been the strongest party on the right since 1979, and prior to that between 1920 and 1948 (and in 1958); M’s support, however, has varied considerably, reaching a high of 30% in 2010 but polling below 15% between 1964 and 1976. The Moderates have historically been the conservative right-wing party in the bourgeois bloc, often considered as being the most right-wing of the bourgeois parties (it was known as the Right Party from 1952 to 1969) and promoting traditional conservative values such as defense, law-and-order, the monarchy and the greatest reluctance towards the welfare state. Under Fredrik Reinfeldt, however, M has seriously revamped and moderated its image – among other things, it likes to call itself Nya Moderaterna or ‘New Moderates’.
The conservatives were one of the two main groups in Swedish politics in the 19th century – representing the aristocracy, the wealthy and the military, they protectionism, wanted a strong military and were skeptical of expanding suffrage. To this day, M remains associated with the wealthiest elites, their values and their attitudes.
Arvid Lindman, two-times Prime Minister (1906-1911 and 1928-1930), was the key figure of the conservative right until 1935; he expanded male suffrage to near-universal franchise in 1907-1909, supported strong defense, supported protectionism but strongly opposed fascism and Nazism (although the youth wing embraced Nazism in 1934). After electoral success in 1928, right-wing support declined consistently in the 1930s and 1940s, falling from 29% in 1928 to 12% in 1948 – and thereafter, until the mid-1970s, the conservatives lost their dominance of the right first to the Liberals (Fp) and later to the Agrarians/Centre (C), who became the chief rivals to the Social Democrats. The party was seen as archaic/outdated and too right-wing by many (hence the adoption of the name Moderates in 1969). It was under the leadership of Gösta Bohman, M’s leader from 1970 to 1981, that the Moderates slowly clawed their way back into (distant) second and dominance of the bourgeois bloc. He was a very vocal opponent of Social Democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme’s left-wing policies. M participated in Thorbjörn Fälldin’s bourgeois coalition cabinets from 1976 to 1978 and from 1979 to 1981. In 1979, M became the largest bourgeois party, ahead of the liberals and centrists; during this same period, M also moved away from traditionalist conservatism and towards modern liberal conservatism.
Led by Carl Bildt, M increased its support in the 1991 election and the bourgeois bloc formed a government (dependent, however, on the abstention of the right-wing populist and anti-immigration New Democracy, a flash in the pan). Bildt, however, took office during the toughest economic crisis in Sweden. The Swedish economy fell into a severe three-year recession (1991, 1992 and 1993) after a housing bubble, similar to the American subprime mortgage bubble in 2007-8, burst and placed major strains on the government’s debt and deficit and resulted in a massive surge in unemployment from 3% in 1991 to 9% in 1994. Credit liberalization in 1985 greatly facilitated access to loans, but banks and financial companies became contaminated by the real estate bubble. The government responded by guaranteeing all bank deposits and creditors, assuming bad bank debts (but banks had to write down losses and issue an ownership interest to the state), abandoning the fixed exchange rate and two major banks were nationalized and their bad debts were transferred to the asset-management. To deal with the crisis, the government also adopted austerity policies including cuts in subsidies, spending cuts, cut payroll taxes, reduced some welfare benefits and privatized some state assets. The right-wing government also introduced several major reforms which remain in place today: the introduction of a voucher system allowing parents to send their children to private schools, a major pension reform which moved from a defined benefit to defined contribution system and introduced a private financial defined contribution element to promote savings. The pension reform was the product of a wide parliamentary consensus with the Social Democrats, who passed implementing legislation and adopted an automatic adjustment mechanism when they returned to power after 1994. In 1994, M remained stable (at 22.4%), but its three coalition allies lost substantially while the left-wing parties led by the Social Democrats gained votes and returned to power.
The 2002 election was a disaster for M, which collapsed to only 15.3% of the vote. Bo Lundgren’s trainwreck of a campaign, which promised wild tax cuts without anything to substantiate them, was widely blamed for the party’s poor result and led many in the party to have a real reflection on their direction as a party. A hidden camera investigation by the investigative journalism program Uppdrag granskning on the public broadcaster SVT, in which M members and local councillors expressed racist opinions, is also widely blamed for M’s terrible result that year.
In 2003, M turned to Fredrik Reinfeldt – an unlikely candidate to lead the successful reinvention of the party. Indeed, Reinfeldt was a former maverick youth leader from the party’s (Thatcherite) right who had, in the 1990s, gained some notoriety for authoring a book, The Sleeping People, which was extremely critical of the Swedish welfare state and argued for neoliberal reforms to substantially roll back the state’s role in society. He was also openly critical of Carl Bildt and other M leaders; he argued that Bildt was the perfect leader for the left to satirize because he was a walking stereotype of the Swedish conservative (a nobleman living in an affluent district of Stockholm).
Under Reinfeldt, M has moved to the centre and revamped its image to be seen as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. Ideologically, M adapted its traditional focus on tax cuts by targeting them towards low and middle-income earners rather than the wealthy; it has focused on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state and finally has given great emphasis to the idea of ‘making work pay’ – reducing unemployment through tax reforms, stricter conditions for unemployment benefits. The Moderates have also widely adopted the name ‘New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour, as an unofficial name. It remains a hot issue of political debate whether M has merely honing the way it describes its ideology or if it represents a real shift towards the centre. At any rate, M’s new image blurred differences with other centre-right parties and greatly improved the popular image of the bourgeois bloc.
The other major change under Reinfeldt was the construction of a successful electoral alliance with the other bourgeois parties. A key factor in Social Democratic strength and bourgeois weakness, historically, in Sweden has been the division of the bourgeois parties and intense competition for right-wing voters between the main right-wing parties. In 2004, the four bourgeois parties – M, the Liberals, the Centre and the Christian Democrats – joined forces in a common electoral alliance, the Alliance for Sweden (Allians för Sverige). Thanks to a very strong result from M (26.2%), the Alliance narrowly won the 2006 elections and Reinfeldt became Prime Minister at the helm of a four-party coalition government.
In power, the centre-right has largely been pragmatic and moderate, aiming to present an image of ideological moderation and responsibility. The government’s landmark policy achievement, which has been quite popular, is the earned income tax credit, a tax credit targeting low and middle-income workers which reduces the tax to be paid on income from employment. To boost job creation, the government also brought in some labour market reforms, the most contentious of which has been the Jobs and Development Guarantee (JOB).
The government’s goal was to increase the after-tax income of those who work compared to those reliant on transfer payments and social benefits – in short, to increase the incentives for those outside the labour market (the unemployed) to proactively look for a job and ultimately increase employment. In return, however, the government changed the rules on unemployment benefits. To access unemployment benefits, the beneficiary must have worked 80 hours a month in 6 of the last 12 months or 480 hours during 6 consecutive months of the last 12 months, with the benefits based on the average income in the last 12 instead of 6 months. To access income-related benefits, a person must have been a member of a union-managed unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa) for 12 months; there is a basic amount of SEK320 per day for those who are not members or have not been members long enough. The generosity of benefits also decline gradually based on the length of unemployment, and are no longer paid out after 300 days unless a work requirement is fulfilled as part of Sweden’s active labour market policies. These policies hurt those working on fixed-term contracts, about 500,000 people. The government also significantly increased employee contributions to Sweden’s income-related and union-managed unemployment insurance funds (A-kassa), with the result being a substantial decline in union and A-kassa membership in 2007-2008. Only in 2014 did the government abolish the additional contributions to the unemployment insurance funds. The government also cut advantages for paid sick leave, with most receiving 80% of their salary for a year capped at SEK 708 per day (it was unlimited in time before). Reinfeldt said that his policies sought to root out a certain culture of passiveness, and prodding people to accept any kind of paid work.
The government also abolished the wealth tax, replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level, eliminated tax credits for union or A-kassa membership, privatized some state assets (notably V&S Group, the former state-owned alcohol producer and distributor until 1994 and manufacturer of Absolut Vodka) and cut some government agencies. Somewhat controversially, the bourgeois government also introduced tax credits for household services (such as domestic work) and allowed for municipal child-raising tax credits (which allows parents to stay at home longer to take care of their young children), two policies which the left is against. However, privatization and smaller government have not been distinctive features of the government – some reports have said that, despite the elimination of several government boards and agencies, but there had been no real change in the number of employees.
When the global economic crisis hit, the country’s economic growth fell by 0.6% in 2008 and 5% in 2009. The economy recovered with handsome 6.6% growth in 2010, the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Unemployment increased from about 5.5-6% prior to the crisis to a peak of 9% in April 2010. The government responded with expansionary stimulus measures, passing the first such stimulus package in the fall of 2008. Anti-crisis policies included a mix of tax cuts (corporate tax and taxes on pensioners), an annual allocation to municipalities and county councils for social services, the allocation of SEK 1 billion a year to county councils for hospitals, a guarantee to banks, labour market policies to help recently and long-term unemployed workers (including apprenticeships, reduced payroll taxes for employers taking on a long-term unemployed person), increased resources in key social services (childcare, elderly care, education) and an increase in some welfare benefits (housing benefits, child benefits). For electoral reasons, the government – with Social Democratic support – chose to dilute the effects of the automatic adjustment mechanism on pensions by spreading the cuts over several years. Nevertheless, pensioners’ loss of income was at the heart of the 2010 election, in which the Alliance promised a SEK 2.5 billion tax cut for the retired in 2011. Government finances remained healthy, with a small 0.7% deficit in 2009 and a return to a balanced budget for 2010 and 2011.
The Alliance was reelected in 2010, but was reduced to a minority government (3 seats short of a majority). M was the most successful party, winning 30.1%, a record-high result and coming within less than one point of overtaking the Social Democrats for first (S has been the single largest party since 1914); M’s three Alliance partners, however, lost votes.
One of the centre-right government’s strongest points in the past had been its responsible stewardship of the economy – often emphasizing that Sweden was, compared to other EU member-states, performing very well economically. Both Reinfeldt and his popular finance minister, Anders Borg, have received high marks from voters when it comes to economic management. Since 2010, however, while Sweden has been performing well, there has been a clear economic slowdown because of lower demand and a strong krona hurting Swedish exports. The economy grew by only 0.9% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013. Unemployment has remained higher than at pre-recession levels – frustratingly stable at about 8% (about 2% higher than in 2006, when the right won) and youth unemployment is very high (23.5% for those under 25, above the EU-28 average of 22%). The government nevertheless repeatedly emphasized that Sweden was doing well – a budget deficit way below the EU’s 3% limit, a budget balance projected in 2016 and more optimistic growth numbers for 2014-5.
Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. Upon taking office in 2006, two cabinet ministers promptly resigned after they admitted that they had not paid their TV licenses and employed nannies without paying the necessary taxes; the Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, Tobias Billström, did not resign and remained in office throughout the two terms despite not having paid his TV license either.
The purchase of Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for SEK 89 billion in 2013 sparked controversy earlier this year, when it transpired that Vattenfall had likely paid more for Nuon than what it was worth (and that the government had actually been advised that the deal would be unprofitable, and Borg/Reinfeldt’s hardly believable claims that the deal was made by a former cabinet minister, former Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson, without their knowledge); in 2012, the defense minister was forced because of a secret deal where the Swedish government helped Saudi Arabia build a weapons factor.
As in 2006 and 2010, the Alliance put forward a common manifesto in 2014. The full document is available in English here. The largely uninspiring focused on maintaining existing policies and promoting the government’s most popular policies, notably the earned income tax credit, and a goal to have 5 million employed people by 2020 (which would be about 350,000 new people in the labour market). Employment ranked first in the Alliance manifesto, with promises including investments in transportation infrastructure; speeding up construction by relaxing costs and regulations; building a world-class business climate by simplifying rules; creating more paths to jobs with labour market policies targeting vocational training and traineeships; a focus on youth employment (lowering social security contributions for people under 23, on-the-job training, raise apprentice pay, foster entrepreneurship in high school); motivating the elderly to lead a longer working life; ensuring gender equality in the workplace (but it committed to retaining the domestic employee tax deduction); investments in R&D and a secure energy supply.
Education was another major topic for the Alliance. It promised more teachers; smaller classes in lower grades; focus on the three Rs; more assessments; ensuring students have upper secondary (high school grades 10 to 12, which is non-compulsory) eligibility when graduating compulsory education; stricter quality controls in all schools and preschools and giving teachers more time to teach (cutting administrative tasks and introducing externally-marked national exams). The Alliance also promised better accessibility and quality in healthcare, strengthening elder care and increase the number of training places for midwives and nurses.
Criminality and security are always important issues for the centre-right. This year, the right promised tougher penalties for violent and serious crimes, to intensify the fight against fraud, crack down further on domestic violence and rape but also take some measures to favour rehabilitation while being even tougher on repeat offenders.
The Alliance is strongly pro-immigration. The government has taken an open-door policy towards asylum seekers, welcoming a huge influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. About 40,000 Syrians have immigrated to Sweden since the start of the conflict, and the government expects 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 after it decided to offer permanent residency to all Syrians – meaning that Sweden has accepted more Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, per capita, than any other EU member-state. Overall, according to the Swedish Migration Board, about 24.5k individuals were granted asylum in 2013 compared to 12.5k in 2012. Already in the first eight months of 2014, over 50,000 applications for asylum were received and 20,317 people have already been grated asylum. Reinfeldt, a few weeks before the vote, urged Swedes “open their hearts” to Syrian refugees. The Swedish government has urged other EU members to accept more Syrian refugees. The Alliance’s manifesto focused on improving integration, helping municipalities shoulder the costs of newcomers, facilitate immigrants’ entrance into the labour market and Swedish society.
Environment-wise, the Alliance’s manifesto called for a bonus-malus system for cars, raising the vehicle tax by raising the CO² charge, ensuring renewable fuels enjoy good conditions, building a toxin-free environment and promoting green industries as ‘growth engines’.
The Alliance’s manifesto did not mention foreign policy or European affairs, likely due to the diversity of views on those issues between members. M, however, is one of the most pro-European/EU parties in Sweden and its voters supported the introduction of the Euro in the unsuccessful 2003 referendum on the issue. Since then, however, M has not made the adoption of the Euro an issue and only a small minority of voters are still favourable to that idea, post-Eurozone crisis. M is also strongly supportive of free trade.
A distinctive feature of the 2014 Alliance manifesto was that it contained no clear promises for further, new tax cuts if it was reelected. This may be because of the left’s criticisms that the Alliance government gave too much in tax cuts and ignored social exclusion and jobs; polls showed that most voters in 2014 were concerned by social issues such as education, healthcare and jobs.
The contemporary New Moderates can be seen as a centre-right liberal conservative party, which believes in modern conservative values such as free trade, a smaller government, the reduction of state ownership, a high value for employment and work and support to small businesses.
The Social Democrats or Swedish Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Socialdemokraterna or Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti, S or SAP) are Sweden’s natural governing party, having governed the country without interruption between 1936 and 1976, and again between 1982 and 1991 and most recently from 1994 to 2006. This record makes it one of the most electorally successful left-wing parties in the Western world, having won the most seats in every single election in the last 100 years and receiving over 40% of the vote in every election between 1932 and 1991, although in Sweden’s multi-party system, S broke 50% only twice in its history. In the last decades, however, the Social Democrats have seen their base and dominance eroded and challenged from both the left and right. The party hasn’t won over 40% of the vote since 1994 (although it came close in 2002) and, barring a sea-change in political opinion, it appears unlikely that the party will come close to winning over 40% again.
The Swedish Social Democrats quickly became a moderate social democratic party which embraced parliamentarianism and rejected revolutionary Marxism – it entered a coalition with the Liberals following the 1917 election, and the first SAP Prime Minister of Sweden Hjalmar Branting (1920, 1921-1923, 1924-1925) was a moderate who opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and forcefully argued the merits of democracy. After the Great Depression, the Social Democrats imposed themselves and quickly came to dominate Swedish politics for the next few decades, through several emblematic leaders – Per Albin Hansson (1932-1946), Tage Erlander (1946-1969) and Olof Palme (1969-1976 and 1982-1986). Per Albin Hansson coined and developed the concept of the folkhemmet (the people’s home), a promise for a compassionate society which would level the economic playing field and break down all social and economic barriers between classes; in practice, it meant abandoning the traditional idea of the class struggle and nationalizations in favour of social corporatism, a planned economy and the construction of the welfare state.
Social Democratic governments under the aforementioned Prime Ministers would develop Sweden’s famous welfare state – often held up (by some, largely on the left) as a ‘model’ of an ideal, universal welfare state – on the basis of the folkhemmet ideas. Significant policies of the welfare state adopted by Social Democratic governments under this ‘golden age’ of Swedish social democracy included a basic pension, universal child benefits (1948), parental leave, supplemental pensions (an issue of hot political debate between the left and the right in 1957), centralized supervision of union-controlled and state-subsidized unemployment funds, housing allowances and universal healthcare (implemented by 1955). One of the more famous policies of the SAP governments was the Million Programme, an ambitious housing policy in the 1960s and 1970s to remedy the housing shortage and provide affordable housing by building a million housing units over a ten-year period. Many of the neighborhoods developed under the Million Programme have, however, become synonymous with urban decay, marginalization and social exclusion. Large housing projects such as Rosengård (Malmö), Rinkeby (Stockholm), Tensta (Stockholm) and Hammarkullen (Gothenburg) concentrate large population of low-income immigrants, often non-white. The government funded its policies through high levels of taxation, including a wealth tax first introduced in 1947 but also indirect taxes (VAT). Trade unions gained a great amount of power in the Swedish labour market, and Sweden has one of the highest unionization rates in the world – despite a steep decline, it still stood at 67.7% in 2013 (second behind Finland in the OECD) and it was at 80% in 1999. The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO), the large blue-collar union which is closely tied to the SAP, remains a key player in social and workplace relations in Sweden and its 1938 agreement with the employers’ federation (SAF) allowed for decades of social calm, economic growth and good conditions for workers. LO followed a ‘solidarity wage policy’ – based on the idea that pay should be based on the work performed rather than a company’s profitability. The successful implementation of this idea up until the 1970s was based on a degree of wage restraint by better-paid employees and the recognition that weak firms might fold (to mitigate this, LO supported an active labour market policy to allow relocation of workers made redundant in low-profit firms). The ‘solidarity wage policy’ was successful for a time, but significant wage drift occurred and by the late 1970s, it was no longer successful.
Swedish Social Democrats election results 1911-2010 (source: sv.wikipedia.org)
Olof Palme, who has become a left-wing icon around the world as a result of his 1986 assassination but also his strong involvement in foreign affairs, was a love-hate figure – his arrogance, autocratic tendencies and his more radical leftist policies polarized Swedish society. Elections in the 1970s and early 1980s under Palme’s leadership were closely fought between the right-wing bloc and SAP, even resulting in a perfect tie between the left and right in 1973 and the narrow victory of the right in 1976 and 1979 (the first time SAP fell from power since 1936). Policies from Palme’s time in office include workplace co-determination (which increased labour unions and employees’ power in the workplace and enterprise management), an expansion of the generosity and scope of the welfare state (heavily financed through tax increases, especially on higher incomes), the elimination of the upper house of the Riksdag (1971) and its transformation into a unicameral legislature and a major constitutional reform which made Sweden a ‘crowned republic’ (the King lost even his nominal powers, such as appointment of the Prime Minister and cabinet). A particularly controversial policy introduced after the Social Democrats returned to power in 1982 were the wage-earner funds (an issue of hot debate since the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, introduced a policy proposal for the scheme in the 1970s) – an alternative to nationalization and to ‘democratize the economy’, the government created several funds financed through a 20% profits tax on firms and a payroll tax, which would buy shares in Swedish companies with the aim of increasing employee/trade union control of the firms. The policy was highly controversial, with the right and employers attacking the plan – originally warning against a dangerous road to Eastern Bloc-style socialism; even many Social Democrats – perhaps including Palme – were not overly keen on the idea, which was finally abolished after the right won power in 1991.
Palme became widely recognized abroad for his ‘anti-imperialist’ views – he criticized US for its role in the Vietnam War; he was a staunch foe of the Franco regime in Spain, apartheid South Africa but also the Soviet Union (during the 1968 Prague Spring); he sided with controversial left-wing leaders including Chile’s Salvador Allende and Cuba’s Fidel Castro but also the FMLN and FSLN rebels in El Salvador and Nicaragua. However, a lot of his views were merely rhetorical flourish because Sweden remained a close NATO and US ally, notably for military purposes, during Palme’s tenure.
After returning to power in 1982 after two terms in opposition, Palme was reelected in 1985 but he was assassinated in circumstances which remain unclear to this day in 1986. He was replaced by Ingvar Carlsson, who began slowly liberalizing Sweden’s economy – in 1985, the credit market was deregulated (allowing banks to loan unlimited amounts to consumers) and in 1990 the government passed a landmark tax reform which lowered marginal income tax rates (people earning less than SEK185,000 would only pay municipal income tax) and broadened the tax base (by separating capital income from labour income, taxing fringe benefits and broadening indirect taxes such as the VAT). In the 1970s, the top marginal tax rates stood at about 80-85%; since 1991, it is around 55%. After Palme’s death, the party became increasingly split on the question of economic policy – with Carlsson’s finance minister Kjell-Olof Feldt and the party’s right favouring market economics (deregulation) and ‘Third Way’ politics while the left and LO supported traditional left-wing economics.
The SAP was defeated in 1991, but thanks to the right-wing government’s unpopularity, roared back with an impressive result in 1994. The party retained power until 2006, with Ingvar Carlsson (1994-1996) and Göran Persson. The Social Democrats returned to government as Sweden was just coming out of a major economic crisis in the early 1990s, which meant that Carlsson and Persson’s cabinets were far less activist and expansionary than previous governments (Persson is famous for his phrase ‘one who is in debt is not free’). In 1997, Sweden adopted a top-down budgetary process which has the Riksdag approve an expenditure ceiling before it decides where the money is to be spent. They implemented a number of cutbacks to welfare policies, which caused some strains in the party’s relations with the LO. However, the country’s economic situation improved steadily after the early 1990s crisis, with the government managing to reduce the debt and posting seven budget surpluses between 1998 and 2006. Economic growth stood above the EU average, and unemployment fell back from the crisis peaks although it was picking up again when the Social Democrats fell from power in 2006. Thanks to economic reforms and the general liberalization of the Swedish economy in the 1990s (with tax and pension reforms, which notably reduced corporate taxation), the ‘Swedish model’ and its famous welfare state adapted well to the new economic conditions of the late 20th century and early 21st century.
Persson was defeated in 2006, hit by voter fatigue after over 10 years in power. The lack of renewal in the top echelons of the party also hurt the party – after the 2003 assassination of popular and talented foreign minister Anna Lindh, who was considered as a top leadership contender – and would continue to hurt them in opposition. Persson was replaced by Mona Sahlin, a mediocre career politician who had seen her accession to the Prime Minister’s office (she was the early favourite to replace Carlsson) blocked in 1995 by an expense scandal (she used her government credit card for private expenses). She had been the last standing candidate after a number of A-list candidates declined, most notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström.
The Social Democrats, although they have only twice won an absolute majority, they have only rarely governed in coalition – excepting a wartime coalition with the bourgeois parties, the Social Democrats have only governed once in coalition, with the Agrarians from 1936 to 1945 and 1951 to 1957. At all other times, Social Democratic governments have been minority governments which could count on parliamentary support from the Communists/Left Party and, since the 1990s, the Greens. The Greens and Social Democrats grew closer under Persson’s government, but they remained outside his cabinets. In December 2008, however, Mona Sahlin announced a formal alliance – the Red-Greens (De rödgröna) with the Greens and the Left; it sought to copy the centre-right government’s successful Alliance and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Red-Green coalition government (led by the Labour Party with the agrarian Centre Party and the Socialist Left).
Initially popular in the polls, Sahlin and the Red-Greens crumbled under closer scrutiny in early 2010. The campaign – in which SAP promoted themes such as the defense of the welfare state and more investments in education and health – went poorly, with the SAP’s cooperation the ex-communist Left Party scaring off centrist voters and Sahlin’s poor leadership turning off other voters. In September 2010, the left lost and S won 30.7%, its worst result since 1914.
Mona Sahlin’s successor proved to be no better for the party. Håkan Juholt, who was chosen as the new SAP leader in one of their famously cryptic leadership selections, was once again the last standing candidate after a number of other candidates had declined and few inspiring names came to the fore. Juholt was considered a ‘defense expert’ in the party and was somewhat charismatic and folksy, but he was definitely out of his depth on many issues (including foreign policy and defense questions, his supposed area of expertise). He was brought down in January 2012 following a scandal concerning an allowance he received from the Riksdag to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it). Desperate for a moderate and sensible leader who would boost the party, the party’s bosses turned to Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union (IF Metall) in the LO, who himself comes from a working-class background in northern Sweden. He was not a member of the Riksdag prior to the 2014 election, and has no previous political/ministerial experience. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.
Ideologically, the modern Social Democrats have often struggled to capture voters’ imaginations with innovative projects or policies, and has instead often focused on its traditional profile as the ‘defender of the welfare state’. In this election, the party promised a ‘better Sweden for all’ and focused on employment, education and the welfare state – the top issues in voters’ minds this year. The Social Democrats have attacked the centre-right government for prioritizing tax cuts over welfare and jobs, and argued that many people risk getting stuck in a ‘poverty trap’ with unskilled, low-wage jobs or unable to find a job altogether (therefore risking social exclusion).
Sweden’s unemployment rate of 8% is below the EU-28 average (but is considered to be high in Sweden), but it has a high youth unemployment rate – 23% of Swedes under the age of 25 are unemployed, compared to 22% in the EU-28. Unsurprisingly, the Social Democrats targeted their election manifesto to youth employment issues and promised that Sweden would have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU by 2020. One of its key promises was the ’90-day guarantee’ – within 90 days, young jobseekers would be matched with a job, training leading to a job or an internship. As part of this policy, the party said that it would invest SEK6 billion in 50,000 new jobs and internships and provide training opportunities for young jobseekers without qualifications. The Alliance claimed that the SAP’s 90-day guarantee is actually a continuation of its own ‘Phase 3′ in its labour market policy introduced in 2007 (the Jobs and Development Guarantee, JOB), which offers an unpaid activity to the long-term unemployed (companies are paid by the government in exchange for taking on these non-conventional workers); the policy has been criticized by the left because participants were given tasks that were not otherwise performed and training/education is not generally permitted except under specific conditions. The Social Democrats want to scrap Phase 3, which they think is ineffective and degrading.
In addition, the Social Democrats proposed to focus the Public Employment Service’s task on active individual support for jobseekers; creating more places in post-secondary education; investing in vocational training and adult education; helping employers by cutting their costs and designing a new industrial policy; increase unemployment benefits so that people can earn 80% of their salary for the duration of their unemployment (under current legislation, the benefit is gradually cut the longer people are unemployed for); limit the use of fixed-term contracts (a maximum of two years within a 5-year period); make full-time jobs the norm; fight social dumping by imposing Swedish collective agreements to all employed in Sweden (this relates to the controversial Laval case in the ECJ); strengthen Swedish exports (it supports the EU-US FTA/TTIP); improving the business environment to boost international competitiveness and innovation. All in all, a fairly centrist and moderate platform on economic issue, focused heavily on jobs.
On tax policy, the Social Democrats said they prioritized the welfare state and investments in jobs over tax cuts and attacked the Alliance for its tax cuts at the expense of jobs. It said that it would not raise income taxes for most people, eliminate the tax gap between pensioners and workers and keep the Alliance’s earned income tax credit for those earning less than SEK60,000, but it would also eliminate ineffective tax cuts and raise taxes on banks to raise 4 billion kronor to fund early childhood education.
Education was the second major priority for the SAP. Sweden has a good education system, but it has really fallen off in recent international rankings, particularly the latest PISA ranking (2012) in which Sweden’s score dropped sharply in all three subjects (math, science and reading) – ranked 38th in math and science and 36th in reading, the worst result for the Scandinavian countries and below the OECD average. Löfven called the PISA results a ‘national crisis’. The party promised to reduce class sizes (by 5 in large primary school classes); train and hire more special ed teachers and learning specialists; improve teachers’ conditions; raise standards in teachers’ education; compulsory education until age 18 (currently 16); focus more on research and innovation; expand access to pre-schools (with small class sizes); offer free homework help to all primary school students; invest in 28,500 new post-secondary places; mandatory summer school for students who fail and increase the number of female professors. Overall, it would invest 15 billion kronor a year in education, which would be invested in cutting class sizes and improving teachers’ conditions. The Social Democrats are not against private schools, but they want tighter monitoring of quality and stop the ‘chase for profits’ in these schools and to allow municipalities to decide whether or not they want private schools. SAP rhetoric tied its education priorities – smaller classes, better teaching conditions, expanding vocational/adult education, focus on results – to its economic goal of reducing unemployment to the lowest level in the EU by 2020.
The welfare state, a traditional concern for the SAP, was the third major party priority in the campaign. The Social Democrats promised to raise child benefits and student support grants; ensure the construction of 250,000 new homes by 2020 by providing financial support to municipalities and other tax incentives; increasing the mandatory parental leave for both spouses to three months (currently, both spouses must take 60 days out of the maximum 480 days of paid parental leave – Scandinavian countries require that the other spouse/father take a minimum period of parental leave to increase gender equality, a highly controversial and politically contentious issue); invest in childcare so that municipalities must offer it on evenings and weekends; remove the tax gap between pensioners and wage earners; investing in healthcare to hire more staff and reduce paperwork; enhance the welfare state in general with a focus on efficiency and quality assurance and create youth jobs in elderly and disabled care. ‘Profit in welfare’ has become a major issue in Sweden recently, one on which most Swedes side with the left; SAP fell short of calling for a ban on profit-seeking in welfare provision, but called for national quality laws to set the rules for private providers in welfare with increased regulations (such as staffing requirements, so that private providers don’t try to make a quick buck by cutting down on staff) and transparency.
The Social Democrats are traditionally fairly pro-immigration and asylum; its platform demanded shared responsibility between EU countries for the reception of refugees, but also tighter rules for labour migration. In 2011, however, the controversial former SAP mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu (1994-2013) proposed ‘conditional’ citizenship for new immigrants, setting up a probationary period where these newly-naturalized ‘citizens’ could still be stripped of their citizenship and deported; this proposal received the support of the SAP chairman of the Riksdag justice committee, but both men were later disavowed by then-SAP leader Håkan Juholt. On foreign policy, the Social Democrats support Swedish nonalignment, its long-standing commitment to international development assistance, its focus on human rights and disarmament and are generally pro-EU (the majority of the party leadership, including then-Prime Minister Persson and then-foreign minister Anna Lindh supported the Euro in the Euro referendum in 2003). The party’s platform called for reintroducing compulsory conscription for all men and women over 18, abolished in 2010.
Environmental issues are important for the party, but not a top priority; its platform talked about reducing GHG emissions by 40% by 2020 (vs. 1990 levels) to free Sweden of fossil fuels by 2050, SEK1 billion investments in environmental initiatives, ban or tax dangerous chemicals, gradually phasing out nuclear power (but saying it will continue to be a mainstay for long years to come still) and a bonus for cars with a low carbon footprint.
The Green Party (Miljöpartiet de Gröna - literally ‘Environment Party The Greens’, Mp) is Sweden’s green party, located on the left of the political spectrum. The Greens were founded in 1981, right in the aftermath of the power on nuclear debate and a March 1980 referendum on the future of nuclear power (the pro-nuclear option narrowly won). The Greens won 1.7% and 1.5% in the 1982 and 1985 elections, but they entered the Riksdag for the first time in 1988, with 5.5% of the vote. The Greens lost support in 1991 and, with only 3.4%, were not reelected to the Riksdag – but they returned to the Riksdag in 1994, and have stayed there ever since. Between 1994 and 2010, the Greens polled about 4-5% in general elections; in 2010, they won their best result with 7.3%. The Greens, however, have been quite successful in EP elections – in the first EP election in the country in 1995, the Greens won 17.2% and, in June 2014, the Greens placed second in the EP election with 15.4% of the vote.
The Greens have usually been aligned with the centre-left. Between 1998 and 2006, the Greens supported – without participating in – the Social Democratic governments of Göran Persson. In 2010, the Greens entered into a pre-electoral alliance with the Social Democrats; the original goal of that alliance had been for the Greens to bring to the broader centre-left fold some white-collar, well-educated ‘bourgeois’ voters who might feel queasy about S but who were willing to vote Mp. Instead, the result was that the Greens gained at the Social Democrats’ expense – the Greens’ female co-spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand was very popular, far more than S’ Mona Sahlin. While the Greens are a fairly loyal member of the centre-left bloc, there is often speculation at election time if the Greens would be ready to cross the aisle and back up a centre-right government. Swedish county and local politics operate on somewhat different bloc configurations, which means that the Greens – after 2010 – governed alongside the Alliance parties in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland county councils. Ahead of the 2014 elections, the Greens recognized SAP as their ‘natural partner’, but was critical of the ‘bloc politics’ – including the failed 2010 Red-Greens experiment and preached cooperation based on policies instead. At the same time as it said that, however, it also vowed to never become “a fifth Alliance party”. It also ruled out cooperation with the far-right.
The Greens’ 2014 manifesto is available online in English. The general tone of the party’s manifesto was rather anti-government, criticizing the Alliance’s record on the environment, social exclusion, education and the welfare state. Climate change and the environment were, unsurprisingly, the top issues for the Greens – whose long-term goal is to build an energy system which would be 100% from renewable sources. Promises included beginning the energy transition to 100% renewable (by 2030) by reducing the use of fossil fuels and closing down old nuclear reactors; doubling the share of public transportation in the transportation sector; improve and expand the rail system including high-speed rail lines; supporting investments in the production of biofuels and electric vehicles; a fee on polluting cars; introduce a new tax on trucks to move freight to trains/ships; ensuring that good organic food is provided in schools and retirement homes (a goal of 50% of organic food in public kitchens by 2020, and supporting vegetarian meals and locally-produced meats); banning dangerous chemicals; increasing the protection of biological diversity (more marine reserves, conservation of forests and woods); strengthening animal protection and increasing recycling. For the Greens, the issue of jobs could be closely tie to the environment – their policies there focused on creating new jobs through their environmental policies/investments, for example in railroads and eco-friendly neighbourhoods. Other job promises included helping youth job creation through municipal support centres and an expansion of vocational training/apprenticeships; reducing the burden of regulations on small businesses and lowering hiring costs for them by cutting payroll taxes and abolishing small businesses’ responsibility for sick leave; employing more people in welfare (education, healthcare, elderly care); expanding adult education; introducing a possibility to take a paid sabbatical; expanding the Alliance’s tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation to be used to renovate suburbs, apartments and buildings more eco-friendly and abolishing Phase 3.
Economically, therefore, the Greens want to raise taxes on polluters and to cut taxes for small businesses. Its 2014 manifesto proposed a ‘social economy’ with well-ordered public finances, a safer labour market (a more expansive and universal combined health and unemployment insurance), the possibility for 35-hour workweeks, possibilities for more leisure time, assurance that all ‘profits in welfare’ are reinvested and long-term investments which are more ethical and sustainable.
On education policies, the Greens resembled the Social Democrats. They promised a reduced bureaucratic burden on teachers to allow them more time for students; ensuring that student support is available in time; higher salaries for teachers; breaking school segregation (a vague call for all schools to be ‘equally good’, with more concrete proposals for needs-based student resources, education in students’ native language and bilingual education in other subjects); regulating private schools so that any profits are reinvested; investments in preschool sand after-school recreation centres; increasing the quality of post-secondary education; investments in modern teaching methods; renovating schools and setting up a commission to study and review the Swedish education system and its problems. The Greens also emphasize more rights for students, including more control over their education, and promote subjects such as anti-racism, gender pedagogy and norm criticism.
Equality is one of the cornerstones of the Greens’ ideology. They promised equal pay for equal work, breaking gender segregation in employment, splitting parental leave into three parts (one for each parents and one freely transferable including to a third person close to the child), fighting violence against women, quotas for women on the boards of stock market-listed companies, investments in school health (to fight mental health problems), laws against sexist advertising which perpetuate gender norms, improving sex ed, improving support to people who have faced abuse and a law on gender mainstreaming. In line with this, the Greens are the most pro-immigration party, enthusiastically supporting open borders (or a world without borders). Its manifesto endorsed a liberalization of asylum laws (an automatic right to a permanent residence permit if an asylum seeker hasn’t been deported within 2 years, facilitating family reunification, people born and permanently residing in Sweden should automatically obtain citizenship); better integration (easier access to housing and jobs for new arrivals) and fighting discrimination.
On healthcare, the Greens promised investments in more personalized and quality interaction between patients and care workers, more staff in elderly care and a focus on the issues of substance abuse and homelessness. Other miscellaneous promises included ‘greening’ the Million Programme suburbs, a massive increase in the construction of rental apartments, greater access to culture, legal protections for whistleblowers, devolution to regional-level governments, protection for crime victim and tackling crimes by addressing its social roots.
Traditionally, the Greens were anti-EU and strongly Eurosceptic. Only in 2008 did Green Party members vote against a party clause requiring a referendum on Sweden’s continued membership in the EU, and slowly shift in a more pro-EU but still quite EU-critical direction. It is critical of EU centralization, militarization, the Euro and the EU’s democratic deficit; it wants, in turn, a EU committed to equality, the environment and a more open migration policy (making it possible, for example, for asylum requests to be tested in more than one EU member). The Greens strongly support global justice, with a foreign policy promoting human rights (including LGBT equality), protection for the Arctic, phasing out Swedish weapons exports to dictatorships and more funding for international development.
The Liberal People’s Party (Folkpartiet liberalerna, Fp) is Sweden’s centre-right liberal party, the second largest party in the Alliance after the 2010 election. Although the party is widely referred to as the ‘Liberal Party’ in English, in Swedish it is usually referred to as the People’s Party (Folkpartiet), with the word liberalerna being a late and recent add-on to the party’s old name. The current party was founded in 1934, but the liberal partisan tradition dates back to the turn of the last century – an organized Liberal parliamentary party was founded in 1900, with a national partisan organization (the Frisinnade landsföreningen, or Free-minded national association) coming in 1902. The liberals in the 19th century were the main opponents of the conservatives; they supported free trade, universal suffrage and cuts in military spending.
The early liberal movement was very closely tied to the free churches – Protestant churches not linked to the state church (the Church of Sweden) – which grew in importance in the late nineteenth century, playing a large role in the temperance movement and the movements for democratic reforms. The liberals found common ground with the Social Democrats in the early twentieth century on basic political and social rights, chief among them universal suffrage, enacted by Nils Edén’s Liberal-SAP coalition (1917-1920); but the party thereafter steadily lost support (falling from 40% in 1911 and 28% in 1917 to about 10-13% between 1924 and 1944) and moved towards the right. The liberals split in 1923 over the issue of alcohol prohibition (rejected in a referendum in 1922) – the pro-prohibition majority founded the Frisinnade folkpartiet (Free-minded People’s Party) while the anti-prohibition minority founded the splinter Sveriges liberala parti. The two parties reunified in 1934, to create the modern-day Fp.
In the 1920s, although they were only the third largest party in the Riksdag behind the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, the Liberals remained very powerful by holding the balance of power. Liberal leader Carl Gustaf Ekman originally tolerated the Social Democrats’ minority cabinets (under Hjalmar Branting from 1921 to 1923, 1924 to 1925 and Rickard Sandler from 1925 to 1926) and a conservative cabinet led by Arvid Lindman (1928-1930), but he pulled the plug on Branting and Sandler with the right’s support and on Lindman with the SAP’s support. Twice, between 1926 and 1928 and 1930 to 1932, Carl Gustaf Ekman served as Prime Minister himself – despite a weak base of support in the Riksdag, he retained power by skillfully playing the left and right against each other. Their influence, however, faded after 1932 as the Social Democrats established their hegemony.
Nevertheless, the Liberals replaced the conservatives as the main bourgeois alternative to the SAP between 1948 and 1968 (with the exception of 1958) and the Liberals polled 23-24% in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 elections. In this period (1944 to 1967), the Liberals were led by economics professors and future Nobel laureate Bertil