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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Sweden to face political uncertainty as far-right makes electoral gains 

Far-right party's historic gains leave Sweden in political deadlock

Swedish prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Lofven addresses an election-night rally in Stockholm on September 9, 2018. AFP
Swedish prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Lofven addresses an election-night rally in Stockholm on September 9, 2018. AFP

Sweden woke up to national political deadlock on Monday after a surge in support for the far right in the weekend general election, resulted in a hung parliament.

The centre-left bloc, which controls the current government, is sitting on 40.6 per cent and the centre-right on 40.2 per cent, meaning each bloc is on track to gaining 143 to 144 seats and falling short of the 175 needed for a majority.

“There are no real winners,” Anders Sannerstedt, political analyst at Lunds University in Sweden, told The National. While the two biggest parties – the Social Democrats and the Moderate Party – outperformed the polls, both fell short of a majority.

Social Democrats leader Stefan Löfven, whose party has come first in every election since 1917, said overnight that he planned to carry on as prime minister and run the government.

But he will have to move forward with just 28 per cent of the national vote, the party’s lowest percentage since 1908. His proposal to form a coalition that straddled the ideological divide was cast into doubt after Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the second largest, the Moderates, demanded Mr Löfven should step down.

“Ulf Kristersson also wants to be prime minister and there is no maturity [on either side],” Mr Sannerstedt said, adding that Sweden is likely to be stuck in a limbo for several weeks.

Parliament will convene on September 24 to elect a speaker, who will then talk with party leaders and propose a prime minister. The speaker will then have three months and four shots at reaching a parliamentary majority.

If this does not happen, snap elections may be held from December 24 onwards, but Mr Sannerstedt said this was not a likely outcome given Sweden’s political history.

“Extra elections are not very popular in Sweden, we have not had one since 1958 and that was under a different constitution,” Mr Sannerstedt said. “My guess is that parties will work very hard to avoid another election.”

Sweden has been ruled by minority governments for 52 of the past 60 years, Mr Sannerstedt pointed out. “The parties are quite used to handling minority situation and my guess is that the outcome will be one more minority government, the question is which one,” he said.

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In this elections matters are further complicated by the rise of the far-right party, with whom no bloc wants to form a coalition. The Sweden Democrats improved to around 18 percent (from 13 percent in 2014), but fell short of the forecasted 25 per cent.

Striking a deal with the Sweden Democrats — who campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-EU agenda — would give either bloc a majority, but both of the biggest parties have ruled out working with a group that has its roots in the neo-Nazi movement.

Oke Bahnsen, of the Germany-based European Centre for Social Research, told The National that the Swedish results followed a pan-European trend that has seen traditional parties weakened by the rise of the far-right.

“The times of traditional bloc politics in Sweden is over,” Mr Bahnsen said. “We had two pre-electoral coalitions and they both failed to get a majority.”

One possible scenario according to the analyst could be a government led by the Moderate party and supported by the Sweden Democrats. “But our data shows that this is quite unpopular coalition [among the electorate],” Mr Bahnsen said.

A more likely outcome would be for some of the minor parties within the Alliance bloc led by the Moderate Party to join the left-wing red-green coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green Party, but “there have been no signals from the smaller parties so far,” according to Mr Bahnsen.

Some observers however dismissed the possibility that these centrist parties would jump to the left to keep Mr Löfven in power, as they are regarded politically to the Social Democrats than the Moderate Party itself.

At the European level, a new government in Sweden would mean a prime minister from the European People’s Party and only four socialists in the European Council.

However, “it is difficult to make predictions at this stage,” Mr Bahnsen noted. “Cooperation between the Social Democrats and some of the parties in the Alliance would probably be the most desirable outcome for the EU [leadership],” where French President Emmanuel Macron and his core European partner face an anti-EU front led by Italy and Ukraine.