On Sunday, September 14, Swedish voters will turn out for a general election that has observers warning of a political stalemate unprecedented in this tranquil Nordic state. The ruling center-right coalition headed by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is trailing — though not by much — an opposition alliance, led by Stefan Lofven’s Social Democrats, ousted from power in 2006. Major voter concerns going into the election are education norms, youth unemployment, growing property costs and the privatization of healthcare. But despite voter fatigue with Reinfeldt’s government, viewed by many as ineffectual and stale after two terms, no opposition party has managed to definitively pull ahead.
The danger here is that without a ruling majority, whoever wins Sunday’s race may be forced to compromise with one of Sweden’s more radical parties, i.e., the fledgling far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, who have 10% support going into the vote – that or risk being mired in gridlock as the Social Democrats, Reinfeldt’s Alliance and the far right and far left battle it out in parliament.
One likely scenario: the Social Democrats win the election (as of Monday, the party was polling at 30%, approximately eight points ahead of Reinfeldt’s four-party alliance) and create a coalition with the Greens and the ex-communist Left Party, the latter of which differs on major points, namely controversial privatization schemes. (The Left’s campaign slogan: “Not for sale!”) Yet even if the three parties join forces, they would still be eight seats short of the needed majority. Lofven’s solution has been to court parties belonging to Reinfeldt’s Alliance in a last-ditch effort that, if effective, could nab his coalition the votes needed to push through its budget and future programs.
More likely, however, is a period of political paralysis as parties jockey to form a government, which could engender repercussions on the economy. If Lofven can’t cobble together a majority, a minority government could replace the center-right ruling coalition with a weak mandate and limited ability to implement its agenda. Some analysts suggest such a government won’t last a four-year term.
Such a prospect is new for Sweden, known for its political and economic stability; it rebounded better than most of the Euro zone from the 2008 financial crisis. On Wednesday, Sweden’s prime minister stated that he was willing to compromise with political rivals, included the Sweden Democrats, in order to forestall a lock jam in parliament. Even so, some chaos in Stockholm is inevitable. Regardless of the victor of Sunday’s race, Sweden’s placid democratic model is set to take a beating.