Category Archives: Sweden
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.
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.
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 Ohlin, perhaps better known to some for his 1930s academic work on comparative advantage and international trade (the Heckscher–Ohlin model and theorem); Ohlin, a social liberal, advocated for a free market economy with little government intervention and opposed the Social Democrats’ economic policies, but he was not totally hostile to some form of welfare state. Liberal support declined progressively in the 1960s and 1970s, falling to only 9% in 1973, 11% in 1976-1979 and 6% in 1982. Ohlin’s profile as a liberal economist fits with the Fp – to this day, the Fp remains seen as a liberal, intellectual elitist party.
The Liberals, led by Per Ahlmark, joined Thorbjorn Fälldin’s bourgeois government in 1976, but after the coalition fell in October 1978 due to differences between coalition partners on the issue of nuclear power, the Liberals formed a minority government led by Ola Ullsten. Although the Fp had won only 11% in the 1976 election, they were able to form a single-party minority coalition (which represented only 11% or so of the Riksdag) by briefly enjoying the benefits of the old balance of power strategy. The Social Democrats and the Centre Party tolerated the Ullsten Fp cabinet by abstaining. The government lasted until the 1979 elections, which returned another bourgeois party. Thorbjorn Fälldin regained office with a three-party bourgeois coalition, in which the Fp stayed until the end – the SAP’s victory in 1982.
Under Bengt Westerberg, the Liberals enjoyed a surge in support in the 1985 election (winning 14%), thanks to Westerberg’s appeal in that election. Under his leadership, the Liberals shifted more towards economic liberalism, fighting for lower taxes and private options in healthcare. However, after the brief success in 1985, Fp support fell back further – falling to 9% in 1991 (when the Fp joined Carl Bildt’s bourgeois coalition government), 7% in 1994 and a low of 4.7% in 1998.
Lars Leijonborg, the Fp leader between 1997 and 2007, led his party to a very strong result in the 2002 election (13%) thanks to M’s collapse and a controversial proposal to introduce mandatory Swedish language tests for foreigners seeking naturalization. In 2006, after the Social Democrats accused Fp operatives of breaking into their computer systems, the Liberals suffered significant loses – winning 7.5% of the vote.
Since 2006, the Liberals have been junior partners in Reinfeldt’s Alliance government. The party’s leader since 2007 is Jan Björklund, the Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister under Reinfeldt. Fp held the ministerial positions in the education portfolio (which, after 2010, grew to include gender equality) as well as the EU Affairs portfolio.
Ideologically, the Fp have – like other liberal parties in the EU – been divided between social liberalism and neoliberalism/conservative liberalism, or between emphasis on civil liberties/individual freedom and economic liberalism. The ideological influence of the free churches and frisinnet (free-thinking) factions have declined since the 1970s. Currently, under Björklund, the Liberals seem to stand somewhere in between left-liberalism and right-liberalism, with the Fp platform designed to please both sides. The Fp’s main niche issues include education, feminism and enthusiastic Eurofederalism.
Education has been one of the Liberals’ main areas of expertise and focus. As Minister of Education since 2007, Jan Björklund led the introduction of new curricula (Lgr 11 for the lower grades, and Gy 2011 for upper secondary schools) – these reforms included a new A-F grading scale beginning in Grade 6 (the left in Sweden typically supports bringing in academic grading only in later grades and is generally not too keen on the US-style A-F grading scale), introduction of teacher certification (for schools and primary/nursery school teachers on permanent contracts), tougher eligibility requirements for upper secondary school, history as a compulsory subject in upper secondary schools and reduced student choice (electives). The Liberals claim that these reforms are necessary to improve Sweden’s education system, do away with the Social Democrats’ old education policies and improve student achievement in school. The Fp’s additional demands for education in their 2014 manifesto included the nationalization of schools (that means that the state, not the municipalities, should run public education), more order and discipline in schools (to fight bullying), earlier assessments (grading from Grade 4), ensuring that all students leave primary school with basic skills (knowing how to read, write and count), support to students (summer school and homework help) and better pay for teachers. The Liberals support private schools, and opposed a ‘municipal veto’ on the establishment of new private schools.
Gender equality and feminism have also become important niche issues for the Liberals – one of their 2014 slogans was ‘feminism without socialism’. It promised a more equitable division of parental leave by earmarking a third reserved month for each parent (an issue shared with the left; the Fp claims credit for first introducing the idea of a reserved ‘daddy month’), abolishing child-raising tax credits (here it disagrees with its Alliance partners), investments in female-dominated occupations (nurses, midwives, preschool teachers), eliminate wage gaps between men and women, stop violence against women (long-term financing for women’s shelters and tougher penalties for men who committed crimes against women), more women on publicly-owned companies’ boards and promoting gender equality in schools.
The Fp has liberal positions on economic and social (welfare state) issues, supporting limited government and low taxes. It argues for a tax reform which would broaden the tax base and cut taxes on labour (and abolishing the 5% tax surcharge on high incomes). The party manifesto proposed workplace paid apprenticeships for high school students; modernizing labour law (employee dismissal priority rules should be based on competence rather than seniority, a longer probationary period for young workers) with the aim of moving towards the Danish model of flexicurity; higher unemployment benefits (based on sick pay levels for the first 100 days, replacing the work conditions to get fund benefits with income-based conditions) and moving towards a universal state-controlled unemployment insurance; defending the Alliance’s reforms (citing the tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation, the VAT reduced rate for restaurants and payroll tax reductions for those who hire young employees); opportunity for elderly people to continue their professional careers and less regulations and hassles in the construction sector. The Liberals strongly support ‘profit in welfare’ – defending it as an essential part of freedom of choice, which they say also helps gender equality (makes it easier to change employers) – with the quality standards to apply equally to both public and private providers.
The Liberals have returned to being strongly pro-immigration now, defending the right to asylum and an ‘open and tolerant’ society fighting racism and xenophobia. It proposed better integration by expanding Swedish language education for migrants; making basic knowledge of Swedish and civic education mandatory for Swedish citizenship; quicker integration into the labour market; an open refugee policy; an open labour migration policy and overcoming exclusion in poor immigrant neighborhoods.
The Fp sees itself as a green liberal party, defending inter-governmental cooperation and market solutions to climate change. The Fp’s manifesto called for a carbon tax and ETS, energy efficiency (including continued use and expansion of nuclear power), renewable energy sources (windpower and hydropower), climate-smart transport and a leading role in global climate change initiatives
The Liberals sell themselves as Sweden’s most pro-European party – it is an enthusiastic supporter of the EU, which it argues helps solve cross-border problems, promotes freedom and democracy and facilitates economic development. It called for deeper integration including oversight of human rights in member states, a more ambitious climate policy, supporting the EU internal market, supporting the EU-USA FTA, safeguarding the freedom of movement and deeper foreign policy integration. Although it is not an issue, the Fp supports holding another referendum on Euro membership (where they would support, obviously, the Euro). On foreign policy, the Fp is also known for supporting NATO membership, its strong pro-Israeli positions (the SAP is usually fairly pro-Palestinian), its pro-defense positions (it supports raising military spending), generous development aid and its very enthusiastic support for free trade and knocking down trade barriers. In 2003, the Fp supported the US invasion of Iraq.
Other promises included more housing for the elderly; improving care facilities for the elderly; European cooperation against crime; locally-based policing; special attention to vulnerable children and free cultural expression. Despite its liberal orientation, the Fp has a strict prohibitionist policy on drugs, opposes euthanasia and has a tough policy on alcohol abuse/prevention.
The Centre Party (Centerpartiet, C) is a centre-right liberal party in the Nordic agrarian tradition. The party has moved away from its agrarian roots over time, especially in the last few years, and has reinvented itself – with mixed success – as a liberal party, with a particular focus on issues such as environmentalism and decentralization.
Founded in 1913 as the Bondeförbundet (Agrarian Association or Agrarians), the party’s ideological roots are similar to those of fellow agrarian rural parties in Finland and Norway, and are part of a fairly unique Northern European/Scandinavian pattern of early powerful farmers’ political mobilization due to their higher social status (than farmers in other continental European nations, especially in southern Europe) and more developed political participation. With these parties, it shares common values – support for private businesses, its rural concerns, decentralization, environmentalism and some degree of Euroscepticism. In its early years, the Agrarians polled about 10-14% (they remained in this range until 1968) of the vote, but they are not remembered for having played an important role in interwar Swedish politics in the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1933, one year after a large SAP victory in the elections, the Agrarians – with their base facing major economic challenges and unemployment with the Depression – agreed to support the SAP’s unemployment in exchange for higher tariffs on farm products (beef, pork, eggs etc) and higher prices on butter. During this era, the Agrarians were the most pro-Nazi of the major parties and had racist pro-eugenics positions.
The Agrarians supported the SAP, although they voted with the bourgeois bloc against a government pension policy in 1936, leading to the left-wing government’s resignation and a brief three-month Agrarian minority cabinet led by Agrarian leader Axel Pehrsson-Bramstorp. After the SAP won the 1936 elections, however, the Agrarians entered Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson’s government, where they would remain until 1945. In 1951, the Agrarians rejoined the government, where they would stay until 1957. While in government, the Agrarians were accused by the right-wing parties of unabashedly promoting their bases’ interests through niche policies to enrich farmers. In 1957, because of disagreements on the pension debate, the party left government but it would not for that matter agree to support a bourgeois cabinet (which had a theoretical majority if it had Agrarian support).
Taking early heed of demographic and social changes, the Agrarians changed their name to the Centre Party in 1957 to broaden their base. Gunnar Hedlund, C’s leader from 1949 to 1971, moved the party towards centrism (with an emphasis on decentralization and environmentalism) and aligned himself with the Liberals beginning in the 1960 election. His increasingly strong opposition to the SAP paid off with good results at the polls – in 1968, it won 15.7% and became the largest centre-right party and further increased its support to nearly 20% in 1970. Thorbjörn Fälldin became C’s leader in 1971, and became known for his vocal opposition to nuclear power – which was one of the main issues of political debate from the early 1970s to 1980 in Sweden. In 1973, the Centrists won 25% of the vote, their highest result. In 1976, although C support fell to 24%, the three bourgeois parties (C-M-Fp) had a majority in the Riksdag and Thorbjörn Fälldin was appointed to form a three-party coalition government.
Fälldin quickly realized that the bourgeois parties were deeply divided on the key issue at stake – nuclear power – because while C wanted to halt nuclear expansion until the issue of waste was resolved, both M and Fp were very much in favour of nuclear power expansion. His government also dealt with a tough economic situation, implemented austerity policies, devalued the krona, cut marginal tax rates somewhat and led an active labour market policy which prevented mass unemployment. On nuclear power, C had compromised with its allies and agreed to a law which conditioned the commissioning of new power plants to plans on waste reprocessing and fuel storage, but the issue continued to divide coalition partners and the government finally fell in October 1978 due to disagreements on nuclear power. In 1979, with Fälldin having been criticized by C members and leadership for his compromises with M/Fp on nuclear power (pro-nuclear SAP leader Olof Palme added to the question by accusing Fälldin of betraying his 1976 election pledge to not be in a government which commissioned a nuclear power plant), C’s support fell to 18% and M overtook C as the largest bourgeois party. Fälldin nevertheless returned to power, with a C-M-Fp cabinet. The nuclear issue was defused by a referendum in 1980, in which C’s anti-nuclear (cease expansion and close existing plants within 10 years) option narrowly lost with 38.7% against 39.1% for the SAP/Fp’s pro-nuclear option (phase out of nuclear power by 2010, reduction of energy consumption, no expansion, state control of nuclear power plants and 100% taxation of any profits); M’s pro-nuclear option (which differed from the main one on the matter of state ownership and taxation) won 18.9%. Government austerity policies against the economic crisis were unpopular, especially as their effects were limited. In 1981, C and Fp worked with the SAP on a marginal tax rate reduction without M’s participation, leading M to leave the government. The poor economy, partisan disputes, rising unemployment and unpopular policies took their toll on the government’s popularity, which lost reelection in 1982 and saw C’s support fall to 15.5%. In 1985, C support fell to 12% and Fälldin was forced to resign as C leader.
Centre Party support continued to decline in the 1980s and 1990s, falling below 10% in 1991 (8.5%) and hitting a low of barely 5% in 1998. Although C was a member of Bildt’s bourgeois coalition from 1991 to 1994 (although C’s leader resigned from cabinet to protest the green light given the construction of the Öresund Bridge to Denmark), from 1994 to 1998, C provided external support to Göran Persson’s SAP government. Under Maud Olofsson, C realigned with the bourgeois bloc and, in 2002, saw its first uptick in support since the 1973 election (6%) and further increased its vote to 7.9% in 2006 as part of the Alliance. In 2010, however, C’s support fell to 6.6%.
Under Maud Olofsson, the party clearly moved back towards the right of the spectrum, and it has also moderated on nuclear energy – while in the 1990s and early 2000s it cooperated with the SAP to close two nuclear power plants, C now sees nuclear power as a stable source of energy (until a preferable alternative is found). In 2010, C – along with the other Alliance parties – voted in favour of lifting the moratorium/phase-out on nuclear energy (from the 1980 referendum) by allowing new reactors to be built to replace old ones. In addition, influenced by an idea that C can only survive if it builds a base with young urban voters, C has moved towards libertarian/liberal positions. In 2011, Olofsson was replaced as C leader by the 31-year old Annie Lööf. Like Olofsson before her, she served as Minister for Enterprise under the Reinfeldt cabinet while C held the agriculture, environment and enterprise/energy/communications portfolios. In 2012-2013, C went through very tough times as an attempt to push the party in a full-blown libertarian position backfired and led to internal divisions over the party’s direction. Its support fell below the 4% threshold in many polls. Olofsson faced controversy for the Vattenfall/Nuon scandal and Lööf was caught in a small expenses scandal.
C defines itself as liberal, environmentalist, decentralist and supports individual freedoms and a limited government. Its jobs policy is heavily focused on small businesses and ‘entrepreneurs’. It proposed a flexible labour market (with dismissal based on competence, not seniority); more mobility in the labour market; lowering payroll taxes to make it cheaper to take on young workers; lowering taxes for small businesses with higher taxes on polluters; workplace apprenticeships; less state intervention in labour relations (instead it favours negotiations between social partners); simplifying red tape for small businesses; facilitating start-ups and a ‘vibrant countryside’ with green industries. C favours low taxes (with green taxes to compensate for lower taxes on labour and businesses) but it further emphasizes ‘decentralized taxation’ in which regions and municipalities have more powers over taxes and to keep the revenues from property taxes (with a new municipal equalization system). It did not make any concrete promises in 2014, but C wants to further cut income tax for lower and middle-income households. The Centre Party remains supportive of the welfare state – like other Alliance parties, it favours more autonomy for teachers, better conditions for teachers, better teacher training, expanding adult education, discipline in schools, support for students in difficulty and supports private schools. In line with its liberal values, C strongly supports freedom of choice in welfare and emphasizes more individual freedom in choosing healthcare (but also elder care), by increasing competition further or by allowing nurses to start their own practices.
C is an environmentalist party, which wants Sweden to be carbon-neutral by 2050. The party proposed to compel the EU to adopt tougher binding emissions target for 2030; strengthening the European emissions trading scheme; work with other countries in the region to clean up the Baltic Sea; protect 10% of coastal and marine areas; continue to expand renewable energy production; strengthening environmental legislation with higher fines for those committing environmental crimes; expanding public transportation; facilitating ownership of environmentally-friendly cars powered by renewable sources (clean vehicle premiums, bonus-malus); ensuring a non-toxic environment and eliminating hazardous chemicals; encouraging local and sustainable food production (with clear and consistent labeling); ensuring that governments are eco-friendly; allowing landowners to have more of a say in protecting biodiversity and giving municipalities more power on climate policies (a reminder of C’s pro-decentralization views). On nuclear power, C merely envisions ‘within a generation’ to have a society free of nuclear power and driven entirely by renewable energy, and not building any new reactors.
The Centre Party is strongly pro-immigration, dreaming of a world with open borders and global freedom of movement. It called on Sweden to accept more refugees and foreign workers (labour migration), more cooperation in the EU for a humane refugee policy, shortening the residency requirements for naturalization, a more flexible labour market to allow immigrants to find jobs quicker, liberalizing conditions to obtain a work permit and liberalizing rules on family immigration.
C is traditionally Eurosceptic, although nowadays it supports EU membership as a fait accompli. It is fond of the catchphrase ‘a leaner yet sharper Europe’ – meaning a EU which focuses on a few key pan-national issues, without ‘micromanagement’ and supranationalism. It is strongly against the Euro.
The Centre Party’s positions on other issues included more police officers to increase security, tougher sentences for serious crimes, protecting privacy rights, encouraging people to move from welfare to work, making it easier for disabled people to join the labour market, reducing the pay gap between men and women (C also identifies as a liberal feminist party) and raising parental benefits.
The Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, KD) are the smallest Alliance party – and also the youngest one. The party was founded in 1964. Ideologically, it claims to be from the continental Christian democratic tradition – although the Scandinavian Christian democrats emerged from a very different context and very different religious movements than the more famous Christian democratic parties on the continent.
The Swedish Christian Democrats were formed in the 1960s in reaction to a government decision to remove religious education from the elementary school curriculum, a controversial decision which mobilized religious Christian public opinion (although ultimately unsuccessfully). More generally, the party’s founders were worried about the direction of Swedish society in the tumultuous 1960s – they saw a decaying society heading towards ‘atheist materialism’. This Christian conservative movement was largely tied to the free churches (Lewi Pethrus, the KD’s founding father, was a Pentecostal minister), and the KD have remained closely identified with the free churches. The party was founded in 1964 as the Christian Democratic Coalition (Kristen Demokratisk Samling, KDS). The Christian Democrats remained a very minor party for about twenty years – between 1964 and 1985, the KDS’ support remained between 1.4% and 1.9% in every election. In 1973, Alf Svensson was elected KDS leader, a position he would retain for over 30 years until his retirement in 2004. In the 1970s, the Christian Democrats refused to be placed in the left-right divide – a cleavage which it dismissed as archaic. Beginning in 1982, however, the Christian Democrats have been aligned with the bourgeois bloc.
In the 1980s, the KDS moderated its positions on moral issues (abortion) and shifted emphasis towards family policies. In 1985, the KDS formed an electoral alliance (a common list) with C, with the goal of bringing KDS into the Riksdag and ensuring that no bourgeois votes were ‘wasted’ by going to a party which fell below the threshold. The C-KDS cartel won 12.4% of the vote, and Svensson was elected to the Riksdag (he was the only KDS candidate on the list to win) – as far as KDS was concerned, the result was something of a success if only because they got their leader elected, but the result was widely considered as a disaster for C (which had won, without KDS, 15.5% in 1982) and forced C leader Thorbjörn Fälldin’s resignation. In 1988, without an electoral alliance, the KDS won only 2.9% and fell out of the Riksdag. However, his short stint in the Riksdag had boosted Svensson’s name recognition and popularity.
The KDS’ breakthrough came in 1991, when the party – on its own this time – won 7.1% and 26 seats. In the Bildt coalition government, their main achievement was the late passage of the controversial child-raising tax credits (the right argues that these tax credits give parents the freedom to choose how to raise their young children – including by allowing mothers to stay at home to take care of them; it is criticized by feminists as as ‘women’s trap’ which reinforces gender roles such as women’s ‘housewife role’), which was quickly repealed by the left in 1994. In 1994, KDS narrowly saved their seats, falling to 4.1%; in 1998, however, thanks to Svensson’s popularity, KD (as the party was renamed in 1996) won 11.8%, its best result to date. In 2002, the KDs won 9.1%. Svensson stepped down as KD leader in 2004, although he was elected to the EP in 2009. His successor, and the current KD leader, is Göran Hägglund, who was Minister of Health and Social Affairs under Reinfeldt. KD also held the elderly/children welfare and public administration/housing portfolios. Their main achievements in cabinet include pushing for the abolition of the property tax and the introduction of municipal child-raising tax credits. The party has really struggled under Hägglund, facing internal divisions and lacking any clear niche issues appealing to voters. In 2006, KD won 6.6% and in 2010 it fell back further to 5.6%.
Ideologically, the Christian Democrats – unlike the more socially conservative Christian democrats in Norway or Finland – do not care much about hot-button moral issues (abortion, same-sex marriage), although KD was the only party to vote against same-sex marriage in 2009 (instead, though, they proposed to completely separate civil and religious marriage and get the state out of marriage) and instead their focus is on family issues – children, care for the elderly. They may be seen as ‘compassionate conservatives’ and Christian principles such as subsidiarity, stewardship and families as the basis of society remain important for them. However, they have fairly generic right-of-centre economic positions; in fact, the KD youth wing seems to be pushing for the party to move even further to the right on economic issues. The party’s moderation on moral issues has also come under fire from a minority of religious conservatives in KD ranks, who would like for the party to be controversial and take on pro-life stances.
The current KD position on abortion is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortion by offering more counselling and support to women seeking abortions. It also supports separating religious marriage ceremonies from legal state marriage, with a gender-neutral civil registration instead. KD opposes euthanasia, supports prohibitionist drug laws and restrictive alcohol policies; it also endorses strict anti-discrimination laws which cover sexual orientation (KD recently expanded the law to cover accessibility/disability) and has a general humanist ideology which affirms each human’s worth as unique and irreplaceable. Families, in Christian democratic tradition, remain important for the party – it supports raising the benefit level during parental leave, introducing a pregnancy allowance of 20ish days, improving the child-raising tax credits, expanding childcare vouchers (so that parents who raise their children at home can benefit from it too), more affordable family counselling, preschools focused on children and smaller class sizes in preschools. Seniors and elder care are also an important issue for KD, who want to allow seniors to live at home longer if they want to, dignified treatment and safe housing. In general, freedom of choice in welfare is highly important for KD, who strongly support private schools and private healthcare options.
The Christian Democrats have, as noted above, fairly generic centre-right economic positions: low taxes on low and middle-income earners and pensioners, low corporate taxation, more flexible labour legislation, free trade, entrepreneurship, support for NGOs and non-profits, simplifying bureaucracy, more private ownership and lower employer contributions for small businesses. It still endorses, however, a social market economy and it is very supportive of a generous welfare state and benefits. On crime, climate change, education, healthcare or immigration, KD’s stances are more or less those of the Alliance as a whole. They too, for example, are strongly pro-immigration and want to reduce the difficulty of labour migration, family reunification and asylum. On the EU, KD seems quite happy with Sweden’s current role on the periphery of the EU, outside of the Eurozone and not overly affected by the Eurozone debt crisis.
The Left Party (Vänsterpartiet, V) is a socialist and feminist party (it is also republican, but that’s irrelevant), the most left-wing party in Sweden. V adopted its current name in 1990, but the party is the direct successor of the Communist Party founded in 1917. The party’s communist roots and, for some, persistent sympathy for communism and/or communist dictatorships remain a highly contentious issue which has consistently excluded V from formal government participation nationally.
The SAP split in 1917 between a reformist majority and a revolutionary minority, which was expelled from the party by reformist leader Hjalmar Branting. The revolutionary dissidents founded the Swedish Social Democratic Left Party (SSV) in May 1917, which became one of the founding members of the Comintern in 1919. In 1921, the party was renamed the Swedish Communist Party (SKP) and embraced the 21 Conditions of the Comintern. In its early years, the SKP was debilitated by many of the same issues which hit other new communist parties in Europe – purges of dissidents (members who opposed Comintern membership, those who opposed the 21 Conditions, those who refused to blindly adhere to the Kremlin’s whims) and founding members leaving in protest with the SKP’s direction (in 1924, Zeth Höglund, a founding member and anti-militarist leftist, left the party and later rejoined the SAP). In 1929, prominent members Karl Kilbom and Nils Flyg were expelled on Moscow’s orders, and they later created the Socialist Party (SP), the remnants of which would become a pro-Nazi party during World War II. In the interwar years, the SKP saw its support gradually decline from 8% in 1917 to only 3.5% in 1940.
The SKP was isolated during World War II – it was the only Swedish party to back the Soviet Union in the Winter War against Finland, it endorsed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, they were the only parliamentary party which did not participate in Per Albin Hansson’s wartime national unity coalition, many communists were interned in labour camps, the party’s publications were effectively banned and the SKP faced constant police harassment. However, the Communists gained support as the war reached its end, benefiting from Soviet military successes. In 1944, the SKP won 10.3% of the vote and the party gained influence within many unions.
In the post-war era, the SKP initially remained loyal to Moscow but was far more conciliatory towards the SAP. However, the Social Democrats had little sympathy for them – Tage Erlander proclaimed that every trade union should be a battlefield against communists and during the Cold War the SAP placed many communists under surveillance. The beauty of the situation, however, was that the SAP could still depend on the SKP’s support in the Riksdag whenever they lacked allies to their right – the SKP provided parliamentary support to SAP governments from 1946 to 1951, 1960 to 1968, 1970 to 1976 and 1982 to 1991. The SKP could hardly afford to vote against a ‘labour government’.
The Communists changed with the leadership of CH Hermansson (1964-1975): although originally a pro-Kremlin apparatchik, he moved the party away from the Soviet line towards Eurocommunism and Nordic popular socialism. In 1967, after internal disputes, the SKP changed its name to Left Party Communists (Vänsterpartiet Kommunisterna, VPK). The VPK was the first party to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, although several old-timer communists within the VPK remained supportive of Moscow’s actions. The VPK’s shift caused a number of splits by hardliners: a Stalinist breakaway in 1956, a Maoist splinter in 1967 (KFML), a youth league Maoist splinter in 1970 (with the awesome name of ‘Marxist-Leninist Struggle League for the Communist Party of Sweden (m-l)’) and a pro-Soviet split in 1977 (APK, now SKP). Under Lars Werner (1975-1993), the VPK maintained friendly relations with ‘communist sister parties’ and the CPSU, all the while continuing the shift away from doctrinaire Kremlin communism. The SKP/VPK had low but loyal levels of support throughout the Cold War years – between 1952 and 1991, the communists won between 3% and 6% of the vote, always retaining a small foothold in the Riksdag and helping prop up SAP minorities when necessary (although it broke from the SAP on issues such as nuclear power in 1980 or the tax reforms, which the SAP passed with the centre-right).
With the fall of communism, the VPK was renamed Left Party (V) and dropped references to communism. Under the leadership of Gudrun Schyman (1993-2003), V moved away from its communist roots and embraced feminism, while also being quite successful at the polls as it attracted SAP voters who were unhappy with the Social Democrats’ moderation and shift towards more liberal economic policies. In 1994, V increased its support to 6.2%, a level of support unseen since 1948 and in 1998, after four years of moderate SAP rule, V won 12% of the vote, still its record high. Its support declined to 8.4% in 2002 as the SAP regained lost ground. V continued to provide external support to the SAP government between 1994 and 2006. In 2003, however, the so-called ‘innovators’ in V lost control to the ‘traditionalists’, and Lars Ohly – who called himself a communist until 2005 – became V leader. Ohly’s leadership was marred by controversies surrounding V’s past and present attitudes towards communism and socialist dictatorships (with a 2004 investigation by the SVT’s investigative journalism show Uppdrag granskning) and internal turmoil. In 2006, V support fell to 5.9%. In 2010, Ohly and V managed to work themselves into Sahlin’s Red-Green coalition, but V’s participation in the alliance sparked fears that Ohly ‘the communist’ would be a minister in a potential left-wing Sahlin cabinet. The party’s support fell to 5.6%.
The issue of V cabinet participation in a future SAP/SAP-Mp coalition remains a hot topic of debate. As it stands, V is the only radical left party in Scandinavia to never have participated in a coalition: Norway’s SV, Finland’s Left Alliance, Denmark’s SF and Iceland’s Red-Greens have all being in a coalition now. Jonas Sjöstedt replaced Ohly as V’s leader in 2012.
Like other radical left parties, V is a socialist, feminist and pacifist party which opposes the capitalist system in favour of an egalitarian socialist society free from class, gender and ethnic oppression. In 2014, one of V’s top issues – and its most popular policy plank – was ‘gains in welfare’. The party is the only Swedish party to favour a total ban on profit in the welfare sector. V argued that billions in taxpayer money were lost to profits for venture capital companies and other profit-seeking welfare providers, it reminded voters of the ‘horror stories’ of cases of profit-seeking welfare providers cutting on staff and services to elderly patients or preschool kids to make a quick buck and proposed to pass a law which would ban taxpayer money to go to for-profit companies (choice would be retained, but only with non-profit companies).
V also promised higher unemployment benefits (raising the minimum daily allowance to SEK410 and the 80% replacement rate would hold for the entire period of unemployment); making permanent jobs the norm by tightening conditions on the use of temp contracts and capping the length of temporary employment to 24 months; abolishing Phase 3; expanding the number of places in training programs; investing in more employees inhealthcare, education and elder care; investing in public utilities and infrastructure; investing in R&D in SMEs; increasing the compensation rate of sickness insurance (removing the time limit on benefits, increasing the replacement rate and the ceiling amount; abolishing the tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation; abolishing the private financial defined contribution pensions; state investment for the construction of eco-friendly rental apartments and supplementing the inflation target with an employment targets. V endorsed the SAP’s 90-day guarantee for youth unemployment and it called on the gradual abolition of the Alliance’s earned income tax credit, which it faults for reducing state revenues and only benefiting to those who work. Instead, V proposed slightly higher taxes on the rich. V is also quite environmentalist – anti-nuclear and pro-organic food.
On educational issues, V is usually very reticent of private schools and the voucher system, and favours investments in public schools. V proposed more university places, state responsibility for education, higher student aid, delaying the introduction of grades to Grade 9, investments to reduce the number of children in preschool classes and a universal child allowance without any means-testing.
V is a feminist party. It wants a state foundation supporting women’s shelters (providing SEK200 million/year), tougher rape laws by defining sex as voluntary and consensual, to reduce the income gap, equal pay for equal work with government leading the way, more full-time employment, shorter working-hours, access to childcare at inconvenient hours (evenings, weekends, nights), increased social assistance and it wants to mandate that all parental leave must be shared equally between both parents. V attaches a good deal of importance to anti-racism and is pro-immigration. It proposed to repeal the Dublin Regulation, provide basic rights to undocumented migrants (their children may attend school and they should have employment rights), shorter processing times, better integration but it called on tougher rules on employers for labour immigration to prevent ‘social dumping’.
The Left is strongly anti-Euro and generally Eurosceptic. On foreign and defense policy, V supports the reintroduction of conscription, the recognition of Palestine, high spending on international assistance and it is generally reticent towards free trade agreements because of unfair terms of trade and global inequalities.
The Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) are a far-right immigration party which won its first seats in the Riksdag in 2010.
The SDs were founded in 1988, as the successor to the Sweden Party, a far-right party founded two years earlier by the merger of two parties – parts of the xenophobic Progress Party and the racist movement Bevara Sverige Svenskt. In its early years, SD was a small movement largely made up of thuggish neo-Nazis, skinheads, Holocaust deniers and white supremacists – the party itself was never officially Nazi, but many of its early members and leaders had links to neo-Nazi or racist movements. Beginning in the mid-1990s, under new leadership, the SDs began their first attempt to clean up their act (notably by banning uniforms) and moderate ideologically (by rejecting Nazism). It moved closer to the European far-right, building links with France’s FN or the Austrian FPÖ, and radical members left the party in 2001 to found the racist and even more distasteful National Democrats.
In 2005, Jimmie Åkesson became SD leader and continued to modernize and sanitize the party – symbolically, for example, the SDs changed their logo in 2006 from a British NF torch to a flower, the anemone hepatica. In the 2006 election, with 2.9% the Sweden Democrats won their best result yet, but remained outside of the Riksdag. In 2010, the SDs won 5.7% of the vote and elected 20 members.
In 1991, a right-wing populist party with anti-immigration stances, New Democracy (ND), had entered the Riksdag with 6.7% and 25 seats. ND had been founded by an entrepreneur/TV host and a nobleman/industrialist, and it had a right-wing anti-government and anti-immigration populist platform which had some ephemeral appeal to protest voters. Although the Fp, C and KD had all publicly opposed ND by walking out of a TV debate to protest ND’s anti-immigration views, ND came to provide tacit support (by abstaining) to Carl Bildt’s bourgeois government between 1991 and 1994. In the Riksdag, ND quickly became a pathetic clown show, with infighting and incompetence. In 1994, ND collapsed and fell out of the public eye immediately thereafter. ND was the only far-right/anti-immigration populist party to win representation in the Riksdag until 2010.
Sweden has a large foreign-born population – in 2013, according to government statistics, 15.9% of Swedes (1.53 million) were born outside the country – and altogether, 28% of Swedes are either foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. The largest foreign-born population comes from Finland – they are one of the oldest migrant groups in Sweden, given that Sweden has always attracted Finnish and Swedish-speaking Finnish immigrants. The past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the former Yugoslavia (particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns). The integration of non-European immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects (many from the days of the Million Programme) in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The difficult social conditions in these immigrant-heavy suburbs have led to riots in the last few years – most recently in May 2013, when riots broke out in the Stockholm suburb of Husby and during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). The far-right claimed that the riots proved the failure of Swedish multiculturalism, while others instead blamed the riots on the growing income inequality in Sweden.
The Sweden Democrats have tried hard to improve their public image, notably by repeatedly denying that they are racist and the SD leadership has cracked down on displays of racism and extremism from SD rank-and-file after several embarrasing incidents. In 2012, for example, the Expressen newspaper disclosed videos from 2010 which showed several high-ranking SD members holding racist and sexist remarks during a verbal brawl with a Kurdish-born comedian (they told him that Sweden was their country, not his; and insulted others by calling a woman a ‘little whore’ and a man a ‘nigger lover’) and later arming themselves with iron pipes after being threatened by witnesses. Erik Almqvist and Kent Ekeroth, two SD parliamentarians involved in the scandal, resigned their duties as party spokespersons and Almqvist later resigned from the Riksdag and the party.
The SD remained a higher controversial party. The Swedish media, civil society groups and the Church of Sweden are all overwhelmingly anti-SD, and a majority of Swedes remain hostile towards the party – which remains associated with racism, xenophobia and extremism in the eyes of many. Thus far, the party’s success has not prompted other parties to toughen their positions on immigration or seek cooperation with the SDs. Despite being in a potential kingmaker situation after the 2010 election, the SDs were been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure. Danish and Norwegian critics of Swedish politics often complain that there is a tightly patrolled pro-immigration/multiculturalism ‘consensus’ which has placed a virtual taboo on questions about the social and economic costs and a great reluctance if not refusal to engage in debate on the issue. This is obviously in stark contrast to both Norway and Denmark, where right-wing populist parties (DF and FrP) have raised a lively debate on immigration issues, influenced other parties’ immigration stances and have successfully (particularly in DF’s case in Denmark) pushed right-wing governments to adopt strict immigration laws. In Sweden, all other major parties have shunned the SDs – this is particularly true for the Greens, V and C who have the strongest ‘anti-SD’ profiles.
The SDs define themselves as a nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based) and (since 2011) social conservative party. Immigration and multiculturalism are the party’s major issues.
SD is, obviously, anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism. The SDs want to end ‘mass immigration’ and limit all types of immigration to a level where it does not pose a ‘threat’ to Swedish national identity – it wishes to restrict labour migration to highly-skilled, means-tested immigration in sectors with a labour shortage; it would severely limit family reunification by setting more stringent conditions; it supports limiting the number of asylum seekers granted residence permits to a bare minimum and it would accept only refugees who are in life-threatening circumstances and only for a temporary period (it basically thinks that Sweden’s refugee policies should help refugees in their home countries/regions rather than allowing them to move to Sweden). The SDs oppose multiculturalism (which it says leads to segregation and cultural clashes, and threatens Swedish identity) and the idea of integration (viewed as ‘meeting in the middle’), instead preaching assimilation – immigrants should receive education only in Swedish, certain non-Christian religious symbols and customs would be banned in public (veils, halal and kosher meat, non-Christian religious holidays), subsidies to immigrant associations would be cut off. Like other far-right parties, it is most hostile towards non-European immigration and Islam – in 2009, Åkesson said that Islam posed a threat to Swedish society. The SDs also wish to protect Sweden’s cultural heritage, opposes ‘cultural imperialism’ and cultural relativism (it believes that cultures which respect democracy and human rights are better than those which don’t); it would fund projects for the conservation of Swedish heritage, establish a cultural canon and increase the teaching of history in schools. The SDs would impose significantly stricter rules on naturalization – demanding 10-year residency with a clean record and demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Swedish language and society.
The SDs have eclectic views on economic issues, leaning right or left depending on the issues, with a strong influence of welfare chauvinism. The SDs support lower taxes for employers, individuals and pensioners (but not at the expense of welfare); higher unemployment benefits (with laxer requirements on job seekers and those who take on part-time work) but sees work as the only sure means to long-term individual prosperity (so it supports gradual decreases in unemployment benefits over time); abolishing Phase 3 in favour of education initiatives; an enhanced focus on apprenticeships with lower starting salaries; an expansion of adult education and vocational training programs; less regulations and taxes on SMEs (by increasing the number of exceptions to employee dismissal priority rules etc.) and moving to energy self-sufficiency with nuclear and hydro power. It strongly opposes affirmative action and ‘ethnic quotas’. The SDs also support more investments in healthcare (to improve availability, quality and staff conditions), increasing benefits for vulnerable groups, nationalization of schools, limiting the number of private schools, improving assistance for students, tougher discipline in classrooms and abolishing free healthcare for illegal immigrants. The party supports tough-on-crime policies with more support for victims, tougher sentences for serious crimes and repeat offenders and the possibility of life without parole.
The SDs are the most Eurosceptic party – they strongly oppose the Euro/EMU, want a referendum on EU membership, wants border controls by renegotiating Schengen and strongly opposes transfer of powers to Brussels. It seeks an independent and Nordic foreign policy which affirms Sweden’s place as a Western Christian nation – opposing Islamism, stronger defense of Swedish borders, reducing the aid budget but increasing support to the UNHCR and reintroducing conscription.
The SDs are a socially conservative party. While the party supports gender equality and opposes discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation, it believes that the nuclear family is the basis of society, that there are biologically-based differences between the sexes and that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic rather than a social construct. The party is not pro-life, but it wishes to restrict the period during which a women can have an abortion on demand from 18 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It does not challenge same-sex marriage, but opposes state-sanctioned adoption by single people, same-sex couples and polyamorous groups. The SDs support gender equality, but argues that individuals should be free to choose their own paths in life and that men and women should not be treated differently because of gender. It thus opposes state intervention to promote gender equality, notably on the issue of sharing parental leave between both parents.
The Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt initiativ, Fi or F!) is a left-wing feminist party founded in 2005. Sweden – and its Scandinavian neighbors – typically score highest of all countries in the world on measures of gender equality, it has one of the highest rates of women participation in the labour force and the welfare state has adopted strong policies and programs in favour of gender inequality. However, Sweden, like every other country, still faces problems such as the gender pay gap and women’s concentration in certain sectors of the labour force.
F! was founded in 2005 by a number of Swedish feminists, led by Gudrun Schyman, the leader of the Left Party (V) between 1993 and 2003. As V’s leader, Schyman – seen as a ‘reformist’ breaking with V’s problematic communist past – had spearheaded the official adoption of feminism as one of V’s ideologies and she had brought gender and feminist issues to the fore of political debate in Sweden. In 2003, Schyman was forced to resign after it was found that she received tax deductions for expenses which she did not pay (she later pleaded guilty). For a while, she continued her parliamentary work in V – most notably, in the fall of 2004, she raised attention to the issue of the cost of men’s violence against women, a motion which was seen by the media as a ‘men tax’ to support women’s shelters. In December 2004, Schyman left V but refused to resign from the Riksdag, a decision criticized by V. Schyman has remained F!’s best-known figure – a lot of the other feminist personalities who participated in F!’s foundation in 2005 have since left the party. At the outset, Finnish gender studies professor and queer feminist Tiina Rosenberg was the subject of controversy after her rivals claimed that she had said that women who sleep with men are traitors to their gender. In 2005, F! received attention with a proposal to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy. For a small party, F! received a lot of media attention, and American actress Jane Fonda even came to Sweden to support F!’s 2006 electoral campaign (in 2009, F! received a donation from ABBA’s Benny Andersson). In the end, F! won only 0.7%. In the 2009 EP elections, with Schyman’s candidacy, F! won 2.2%. In 2010, however, F!’s support fell to 0.4% (but Schyman won a seat on the local council of her hometown Simrishamn). Prior to the 2010 election, Schyman burned SEK100,000 to bring attention to the gender pay gap.
In 2014, F! experienced its first electoral breakthrough, winning 5.5% of the vote in the EP elections and winning one MEP (Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry, and sits in the Socialist group). After the EP success, F! enjoyed a surge in support and membership.
F!’s 2014 manifesto is available in English here. F! is a left-wing party – its manifesto talked of the ‘right to welfare and culture’, rejected the idea of work as end in itself (and that people need to be disciplined into working), saw welfare as a tool to build an egalitarian democratic society rather than a mere safety net, argued that human rights should come before economic growth, challenged the narrow conception of growth (based solely on economic terms) and identified discrimination, sexism and racism as the main ills to be fought. However, as a feminist party, it rejects Marxist class analysis as too limited and incapable of analyzing the patriarchal, hetero-normative and racist power structures. It brings attention to the gendered dimensions of modern political issues.
F!’s manifesto promised a labour market free from discrimination, political action for wage equality (with a ‘gender equality fund’ to finance wage increases in women-dominated sectors); a reduction of working hours to 6-hour work days; gender quotas; combining unemployment benefits, medical benefits and social security benefits into a combined social insurance scheme with guaranteed minimum levels of remuneration; an equal split of parental leave between both parents and the introduction of critical (norm-critical) pedagogy in schools (F! also called for increased human resources for school health, salary increases and professional development for teachers and smaller group sizes). On the issue of gender and sexual politics, F! supports criminalizing sex without consent; obligatory training within the justice system on issues such as violence, sexism, racism and human rights; improved sex-ed in schools; more accessible youth centers and clinics; facilitating the right to alter one’s gender; fighting all kinds of gender discrimination or practices which reinforce negative gender norms (including sexist advertising, strip clubs, porn); government core funding for women’s shelters; replacing marriage laws with a new co-habitation code that includes all types of families and tackling gender issues in education and healthcare (notably through norm critical education). F! defines itself as an anti-racist party, which seeks to fight racial/ethnic discrimination – its manifesto proposed the regularization (residence permits) of undocumented persons; refocusing the Migration Board’s duty from assessing people’s right to immigrate to Sweden to supporting new immigrants and working towards open borders.
The Feminists’ manifesto also promised state subsidies for eco-friendly housing; renovating the housing from the Million Programme (by phasing out the Alliance’s tax deduction for home maintenance/renovation and household services); taxing GHG emissions (striving for a UN-managed global tax on GHG emissions) including those from food production, to reduce meat consumption; a fully renewable energy system by 2040; investments in accessible public transport and free public transport. On diplomatic issues, F! seeks to challenge the patriarchal and paternalist systems of foreign and security policies, focusing instead on poverty reduction and feminist advocacy for women in the global south and against sexual exploitation. F! is pragmatic on the EU, but is critical of the lack of EU action on promoting gender equality, the militarization of the EU, the EU’s democratic deficit and EU asylum policy; it wants to push for more attention to women’s issues in the EU and women’s participation in decision-making.
Results and analysis
S – Social Democrats 31.01% (+0.35%) winning 113 seats (+1)
M – Moderates 23.33% (-6.74%) winning 84 seats (-23)
SD – Sweden Democrats 12.86% (+7.16%) winning 49 seats (+29)
Mp – Greens 6.89% (-0.45%) winning 25 seats (nc)
C – Centre 6.11% (-0.44%) winning 22 seats (-1)
V – Left 5.72% (+0.11%) winning 21 seats (+2)
Fp – Liberals 5.42% (-1.63%) winning 19 seats (-5)
KD – Christian Democrats 4.57% (-1.03%) winning 16 seats (-3)
F! – Feminists 3.12% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ÖVR – Others 0.97% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Red-Greens (S+Mp+V) 43.62% (+0.01%) winning 159 seats (+3)
Alliance 39.43% (-9.85%) winning 141 seats (-32)
NB: I refer to SVT’s exit poll below, which had a minor 0.7% average deviation from the final result, but had a 2.4% deviation with the SD result – predicted at 10.5% in the exit poll, but at 12.9% in reality. When SD numbers are referred to below, keep this in mind and perhaps add 2-3% on top of it to simulate reality.
The Swedish left won – by a very unimpressive margin and with numbers which disappoint many on the left – and the governing centre-right Alliance lost, more decisively; but, on the whole, the real winner of the election were the far-right SDs. The left’s victory had been looking very much like a fait accompli before the real campaign even began – the three left-wing parties had led the Alliance government in the polls for over two years, since March/April 2012, and most had predicted that the left would emerge victorious. The left’s lead over the government only grew beginning in the fall of 2013, taking a comfortable 10-point lead over the Alliance parties in all polls for about a year until August 2014.
After two terms in power, the centre-right was looking tired and without any enticing ideas with which to capture voters’ imagination. Swedish voters still trusted Fredrik Reinfeldt on issues such as the economy, taxes or personal finances – and Reinfeldt remained, on the whole, a net positive for his party. However, on other issues, the Social Democrats, under a more competent and unoffensive leader (Stefan Löfven) managed to regain voters’ trusts on other issues high on their minds, such as the welfare state, jobs or education. Many voters in 2014 turned against tax cuts, in favour of protecting the welfare state. According to the SVT exit poll, the top issues on voters’ minds were schools and education (60%, +6 on 2010), healthcare (54%, +5), the economy (53%, -1), social welfare (51%, +5) and employment (50%, -3). 35% also noted profits in welfare as one of their main preoccupations.
Scandals involving the government, high unemployment, voter fatigue and some unpopular or controversial policy issues (notably profit in welfare, where Swedes sided with the left) also hurt the government. Nevertheless, the Alliance managed to hold its own during the last stretch of the campaign – despite the smacking received by M in the May EP elections (a catastrophic third place finish behind the Greens) – and, with the Social Democrats proving to be quite uninspiring themselves, did close the gap somewhat – the last polls all showed that the left had lost its 10+ lead over the Alliance and that the gap between both blocs was in the single-digits, with some pollsters showing the Alliance within four points in their last polls. On election night, the three left-wing parties finished only 4.19% ahead of the Alliance. The 43.6% received by the left-wing parties is basically identical to their 2010 result, which had been a poor showing for the left. The Social Democrats only barely increased their result, to 31%, from their historic low in 2010.
The main question of the election had been whether the unofficial Red-Green bloc (S+Mp+V) could win an absolute majority, a prospect which became increasingly distant in the final days as the Alliance closed the gap and SD kept polling well. There was a big hubbub about what it would mean if S+Mp+V only won a plurality, or if S+Mp was smaller than the Alliance (and speculation about a potential S+Mp government falling if V didn’t play along with them outside of government and if SD backed the Alliance parties on the budget votes). In the end, the Red-Greens fell 16 seats short of an absolute majority (175), and S+Mp alone are indeed 3 seats smaller than all the Alliance parties combined.
The real winners, clearly, were the Sweden Democrats. The far-right party ended up with 12.9%, up over 7% on its 2010 breakthrough result, and finishing third. Sweden had famously ‘lagged behind’ Denmark and Norway in terms of the electoral strength of the populist right/far-right, but it caught up quite fast – the SDs result is even higher than what DF won in the last Danish election, although that’s meaningless given that DF will (in all likelihood) perform extremely well in next year’s Danish election. Although Swedish voters remain generally supportive of immigration, it’s clear that there’s a significant number of voters who are increasingly hostile or at least cool towards Sweden’s liberal immigration and multiculturalism policies – and those voters, who make up a significant share of the electorate, are currently fairly unrepresented by the existing parties. All the Alliance parties are pro-immigration and the left-wing parties, especially Mp and V, are also strongly in favour of immigration (S is the only party which has some vocal critics of open immigration, but the party does remain pro-immigration on the whole); in this context, the SDs are the only party who appeal to anti-immigration voters. The SDs may have been helped by the attention given to the issue of Syrian refugees in the last stretch of the campaign, including with Reinfeldt’s appeal for Swedes to ‘open their hearts’. According to the SVT exit poll, 17% of voters said that the SDs had the best policy on immigration and refugees – against 20% for S, 12% for M and 8% for Fp. On all other issues, only 3-5% of voters said that the SDs had the best policy.
With SD firmly established in Swedish politics and, for now, as the third largest party (and, of course, the potential kingmaker) there can be lots of speculation on the role which the SDs will manage to play in the coming years. It still appears unlikely that the other parties will break the official cordon sanitaire around SD and formally seek to work with them. The Alliance parties remain unlikely to move towards more restrictive immigration policies – C in particular has played itself up as a strong anti-SD party, and potential new leaders for the Alliance parties all look quite unlikely to lead right-wing transformations of their parties. In short, it is quite tough to see any of the Alliance parties moving right-wards, à la Danish Venstre, on immigration issues.
The Social Democrats had hoped to recover from their 2010 rout, and for a while it looked as if S stood a chance at reaching their 35% objective, but S lost support following the EP elections and during the campaign. The party’s inoffensive and uninspiring campaign resulted in loses to other parties on the left, although some voters likely switched to the Alliance over the course of the last few days when the right managed to significantly close the gap. Löfven may have been hurt from a small debate gaffe in the final debate; C leader Annie Lööf came up to his pulpit to hand him a paper, but a flustered Löfven raised his hand and brushed her arm away, an incident which created some buzz and which the right tried to exploit to paint him as a “Social Democratic strongman” (in the words of Reinfeldt). Löfven, who had no formal political/electoral experience before becoming leader, also faced questions about his experience – although his background as a calm and soft-spoken trade unionist is popular.
31% is a very weak result for S and an especially weak mandate for Löfven. In short, by playing it too cautious, S likely lost itself a number of swing voters. Like other Social Democrats in Europe, the Swedish Social Democrats have struggled in recent years as a result of their inability/weakness at reinventing themselves and responding to many new issues. According to SVT’s exit poll, 78% of S’s 2010 supporters voted for them again. S lost 6% to V, 4% to the Greens, 3% to the Feminists – so a total of 13% of its 2010 voters chose to vote for another left-wing party. It lost only 4% of its 2010 vote to the Alliance parties, but lost 5% to the SDs. The SDs, since 2010, have successfully made inroads in a number of traditionally solidly S demographics: LO members (6% in 2010 and 11% in 2014) and workers (9% in 2010 and 12% in 2014).
The Moderates, who had been responsible for the Alliance’s gains in 2010, now bore the brunt of the loses – losing a significant amount of support and falling to 23%, which was roughly M’s pre-Reinfeldt level of support in the 1990s, 2002 notwithstanding. M lost a significant amount of support across bloc boundaries to the far-right and S, while also suffering more minor loses to other Alliance parties. According to the exit poll, M only retained 63% of its 2010 vote, losing 8% to S and another 8% to the SDs. The far-right has made sizable gains with conservative M voters, who may not have been totally enamoured by the ‘New Moderates’ shift towards the centre; in both 2010 and 2014, SD also did fairly well with right-leaning demographics including entrepreneurs (4% in 2010, 8% in 2014) and farmers (8% in 2014, 4% in 2010), while in 2014 it improved its showing with white-collar employees to 6% from about 3-4% in 2010. M also lost a total of 17% of its 2010 vote to its Alliance partners – 6% to Fp, 4% to C and 3% to KD. Some of these may have been traditional supporters of those parties ‘returning home’ after supporting Reinfeldt (and M) in 2014, or perhaps ‘loan votes’ from right-wing voters who wanted to ensure that these parties, especially C and KD, made it past the 4% threshold. M lost 3% to Mp, which is probably far less than what M lost to the Greens back in the EP election in May, and only 1% apiece to V and F!.
Fredrik Reinfeldt resigned as Prime Minister immediately after the defeat and will also step down as M leader in the spring. He stayed true to his word that he wouldn’t try to hang on to power if the red-green bloc was larger than the Alliance.
The Sweden Democrats broadened their electorate in 2014 – their vote retention, especially for a protest party vulnerable to protest voters’ whims, was very strong (79%), and they attracted supporters from both the left and right. Only 41% of SDs’ 2014 voters had supported them in 2010 – a full 29% of their 2014 voters had voted M in 2010 and 16% had voted S. The SDs drew much smaller amounts from parties with electorates far more hostile to SD – only 5% from Fp, 3% from the KD, and 2% apiece from V, Mp and C. In terms of support across age groups, SDs’ support was far more balanced than in 2010. In the last election, SD won 6% with young voters 18-21, but only 5% with those 22 to 30, 4% with those 31 to 64 and 3% with those older than 65. This year, SD won 8%, 7%, 8% and 8% respectively in those age groups. In 2010, the stereotypical SD voter was a young working-class male with low education (‘the angry youth white man’) – i.e. a fairly typical European far-right voter. This year, SD has a more balanced electorate – although they still have clear ‘weak groups’.
The Greens did surprisingly poorly, which is certainly extremely disappointing for them just a few months after their remarkable second place finish (15.4%) in the EP elections. The Greens, whose 7.3% result in 2010 marked their highest showing in a Riksdag election, had been polling 8-10% in the final days (and a bit higher, up to 12%, in the period before that). The Greens, granted, tend to lose support in the final days of an election – a similar fate befell them in 2010, falling from about 9-10%, and they generally underperform their polling numbers. The Greens tend to have a fairly unstable electorate – they retained only half of their 2010 vote. The main ‘culprit’ for their poor showing this year seems to be F! – 19% of Mp’s 2010 voters went over to the Feminists this year, in addition to 13% who vote S, 10% who voted V and a total of 7% who switched to the Alliance (3% M, 2% C, 1% Fp and 1% KD). The Greens did gain some votes from S and M – 15% and 10% of those parties’ 2010 voters switched to the Greens, as did 5% of V voters from 4 years ago and 4% of C and Fp voters. The Feminists, unsurprisingly, hurt the Greens most with younger voters – according to SVT, Green support fell 3% (16% to 13%) with younger adults 22 to 30 and by 1% (16% to 15%) with those 18 to 21; in those groups, F! won 11% and 9% respectively.
The Centre Party can be very pleased with its result – losing only minimally from 2010 (-0.4% and 1 seat). It is a result made even more remarkable when one takes into account the kind of trouble and tough times C went through in a not-so-distant past. Before the EP election (when C did quite well), C had been hovering around the 4% threshold with serious concern that C, like KD, could fall out of the Riksdag. The Centrists had been in these dire straits since around 2013, when C was in the midst of divisive internal policy debates and new leader Annie Lööf was stumbling. Then the Centre Party remembered how to run a winning campaign, which played up C as a tough anti-SD choice, and it worked wonders. C retained 55% of its 2010 vote, losing 12% to M, 7% to S, 7% to Mp, 7% to Fp and 6% to KD (only 3% to SD, 2% to F! and 1% to V); on the other hand, it also gained quite a bit from M (26% of C’s 2014 voters had voted M in 2010) and Fp (13% of its voters).
The Left may be slightly disappointed with its result – 5.7%, which is only a very minor 0.1% gain (+1 seat), which still places it below its mediocre 2006 result. In the polls, V was polling 6-7% in the last stretch of the campaign and even higher (7-9%) before then. With a new and less controversial leader in Jonas Sjöstedt, V was probably hoping for more. V also had a real winning issue in its hands, with which it could realistically hope to attract new left-wing voters – profit in welfare. In the SVT exit poll, 21% of voters said V was the best party on the issue, compared to 20% for S and 17% for M. The issue was the most important issue for V’s voters, and was also quite important (although less so) for left-wing voters (the Alliance and SDs’ voters didn’t care much). To a certain extent, V’s popularity (on the left) on this new issue helped them attract some votes from S and Mp (21% and 12% of V’s vote this year came from people who had voted S and Mp respectively in 2010). However, V was hurt by F!’s relative success – no less than one-fifth of V’s 2010 voters went for F! instead this year, with an additional 14% switching to the Social Democrats (another 5% went Green).
The Liberals and Christian Democrats also suffered more substantial loses on the right, with both parties suffering loses across blocs to S and within the bloc to other parties (M and C, mostly). Nevertheless, both parties remained above the 4% threshold – KD, as the smallest right-wing party, faces the same danger of falling below the threshold in every election, and KD was indeed polling below 4% in most polls before the EP elections, when KD performed relatively well and moved back up above the 4% threshold in subsequent polls. Fp, which underperformed its polling numbers, was probably hurt by C’s recovery (11% of its 2010 voters went over to C this year).
The Feminists, one of the major question marks of this election, ended up winning only 3.1%, compared to 5.9% in the EP election. F! saw a brief surge in support before and shortly after the EP election, but its momentum petered out slowly, although it regained some ground in the very last days. With the other major question of the election being whether S+Mp+V would get an absolute majority, there was some effort on the left to bring F! above the 4% threshold in a bid to get an absolute majority with F!. As part of this final push from F!, Gudrun Schyman appeared onstage at American singer Pharrell Williams’ concert in Stockholm on the eve of the election. F!’s results were frustrating for the other parties on the left, from a strategic standpoint – the 3% for F! more or less ended up as wasted votes, which would otherwise have gone to left-wing parties in the Riksdag (Mp and V). However, even if F! had made it in the Riksdag by winning over 4% or if it had won slightly less support (and the difference had instead gone to, say, Mp or V) the centre-left bloc would still have fallen short of an absolute majority. Overall, 77% of F!’s voters came from people who had voted for the three leftist parties in 2010 – 33% from the Greens, 30% from the Left and 14% from SAP (an additional 10% had already voted F! in 2010) – compared to only 10% which came from the Alliance parties (5% from M). In terms of issues, F!’s voters obviously placed gender equality as their top concern while 18% of voters saw F! as the most competent party on that issue (tied for first with S). According to the SVT exit poll, 8% of women voted for the Feminists compared to 4% of men. F!’s support, as alluded to above, was predominantly young.
The Pirate Party – Sweden’s Pirates were among the first in the world (first running in 2006) and the first to achieve notable electoral success (in the 2009 EP elections), but they have since been losing steam and has dwindled into irrelevance – won only 0.4%, down 0.22% from 2010. In the fun world of write-in votes, the most popular option was Partiet De Fria (607 votes), which seems to be an informally organized aspiring party operating in the conspiratorial right-libertarian sphere of politics with rants against banks, the EU and other alleged conspiracies (Bilderberg Group); amusingly, it won more votes than the registered Swedish Communist Party (SKP, which is the continuation of a pro-Soviet split from V in the 1970s). The old satirical Donald Duck party won 115 votes, the Satanistiskt initiativ (a parody of F!) won 67 votes and the ‘Communist Party’ won 50 votes.
On the bases of these numbers, Stefan Löfven was able to become Prime Minister at the helm of a minority government. Löfven was quick to rule out a coalition including V, which visibly irritated V and Jonas Sjöstedt – who had wanted to be part of a coalition with the left-wing parties, although with strict conditions – but which came as little surprise as it had been clear, in the weeks before the vote, that there was little appetite in S or Mp ranks for a coalition government V. Jonas Sjöstedt had previously more or less conditioned government participation to a full ban on profit in welfare, which was not something S and Mp are amenable towards. Löfven had repeatedly, during the campaign, indicated his desire to work across the aisle with Fp and C; V doesn’t want anything to do with those two centre-right parties, while those two centre-right parties likewise don’t want to be with V. However, Fp and later C quickly rejected Löfven’s advances. Liberal leader Jan Björklund said that the ball was now in Löfven’s court, meaning that he had the responsibility of forming a government. Annie Lööf, who comes out of the vote in a surprisingly strong position (as the leader of the second-largest party, especially as M will be looking for a new leader now), unsurprisingly rejected Löfven’s proposal, reminding him that S had worked with SD in the past legislature to block some Alliance budget planks. The small Alliance parties may cooperate with S+Mp on consensual policy issues.
The Speaker nominated Löfven to form a government with S and Mp. On October 2, the Riksdag confirmed Löfven’s nomination as Prime Minister, with 132 votes in favour (S and Mp) and 49 against (SD) with 154 abstentions (the Alliance and V). V, which had voted ‘yes’ to previous S governments in the past – notably in 1982 and 1994 – abstained, which was a pretty clear warning shot aimed at the government. V’s speech in the Riksdag in the debate preceding the vote was quite critical of the new government, criticizing Löfven for not choosing to govern to his left and warning the government that while it would support it on certain issues it wouldn’t become its ‘passive support’ and instead be the left-wing alternative. Löfven announced his new cabinet, which includes Mp ministers – notably Åsa Romson, the Greens’ co-spokesperson as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment. The Greens will also hold the portfolios of International Development and Cooperation, Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs (a ‘Deputy Minister of Finance’ post), Education (for Gustav Fridolin, the Greens’ young male co-spokesperson), Housing and Urban Development, and Culture and Democracy. Notable names in the cabinet include Sweden’s acclaimed former European Commissioner and UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones Margot Wallström, who will be Minister of Foreign Affairs, while economist and former Director-General of the Swedish Tax Agency Magdalena Andersson will be Minister of Finance.
It will be a very moderate government by the looks of it all – the Greens compromised and agreed to drop their opposition to defense spending, shutting down nuclear power plants and the 1994 S-bourgeois pension agreement, while S dropped their tough stance on labour migration. The new government has promised to scrap the current time limit on the duration of sick leave/sickness insurance (introduced by the right), abolish Phase 3, raise the school leaving age by 2 years to 18 years old (the left argues this will improve their employment prospects because the unemployment rate of HS dropouts is very high), raise the ceiling on unemployment insurance (recipients will get up to 80% of their wage and it should no longer drop off gradually based on duration of unemployment) and push large companies to have 40% of women on their boards by 2016 (or face legislative action). What retained the most attention around the world, however, was the government’s announcement that it intends to recognize Palestine. Löfven has already taken flack for a flip-flop on VAT in restaurants/cafés (the Alliance cut it by half, but S was very critical of it as an inefficient use of money but it won’t be raising it now) and the RUT (the tax deduction for domestic services); in both cases, they result from compromises with the Greens, who supported both policies.
The next step, in November, will be for the government to present its budget bill. In the Swedish budgetary process, opposition parties may also submit their own budgets, and it seems as if the Alliance will present a common one as will SD. The budget issue could be tricky and potentially very dangerous for the government – after the election, SD leader Jimmie Åkesson said that he was open to voting in favour of the Alliance’s budget proposal, on the unlikely off chance that SD likes it (which is very unlikely as the Alliance will probably propose increasing resources for the migration office), which would then mean that the government would have a majority against its budget and would lead to early elections; but this was mostly trolling to send journalists in their usual hysteric frenzy. It remains very likely that the government will still manage to pass their budget. On other issues, the government will need to work with V and the Alliance parties (or SD) or rely on the passive abstention of one of those parties. Which means that it is a government with a very weak mandate, which is unlikely to effect substantial policy changes.
The SVT exit poll had some other interesting points. The questions on the top issues brought out interesting dimensions in terms of how different parties’ voters ranked the major issues, and the perceived competence of the parties on those issues. While education, healthcare and seniors were major issues across the board (although education was less important for SD voters and healthcare less important for M, C and F! voters), the right was more deeply concerned about the Swedish economy (it was the top issue for M, C and KD voters) and their personal economy; the left, in turn, was more concerned about issues including social welfare, profits in welfare (there was a very big left-right split here in terms of importance given) and housing. The environment was the top issue for Green voters but also ranked highly for F! (#3), C (#4) and V (#7) while S supporters did not show as much concern (#14) and Fp, M and SD voters ranked the environment at the bottom. Gender equality, obviously the top issue for F! voters, was also one of the top 10 issue for V, Green, Fp and C voters (reflecting the most actively feminist parties) but the second least-important concern for SD supporters. Immigration was the top issue for SD voters, and it also ranked highly – certainly for the opposite reasons – for F! (#6) and Mp (#9) voters, while Alliance voters didn’t think much of it. Law and order was the second most important issue for SD voters, and the eight most important for M voters; but it was less important for supporters of the three other Alliance parties and even less so for left-wing voters. Business conditions were some of the least important considerations for left-wing and SD voters, but voters from all four Alliance parties ranked it in the top 10. Taxes were a top 10 issue for KD and M voters, but less important for C and Fp voters.
In terms of issue competence, M led S 39% to 27% on the ‘Swedish economy’, by 10 (34-24) on one’s ‘personal economy’ and also held a 6 point lead on S on taxation. On education, S was the most competent for 27% of voters while Fp was most competent for 22% of voters (a clear sign of Fp’s success as a ‘niche party’ for education issues on the right), with only 11% for M and 10% for V. On employment, S was statistically tied with M with a 1-point edge (31-30), with 7% giving top marks to V on this issue. On healthcare, S had a decisive 19-point lead over M (31% to 12%), with good marks for V (12%), KD (10%) and Fp (7%) as well. On social welfare, S also led M by 16, 31% to 15%, with 12% giving top marks to V and 7% to Fp; S also led M on pensions (29-14, V 9%). On the environment, the Greens were the most competent for 42% of voters, with C coming in second with 22% – again a clear sign of C’s success as a ‘niche party’ for environmental issues on the right – and only 10% for S and 6% for M. On profits in welfare, as noted above, V led S by 1 (21% to 20%), with M at 17%. On gender equality, F! and S were tied at 18% apiece, with good numbers for V (9%) and Fp (9%). On immigration, S led SD by 3, 20% to 17%, with 12% to M, 9% to V and 8% to Fp. It should be noted that SD remains very much of a one-issue party, or at least one defined by one issue – besides immigration, the best SD scored on any other issue was 5% (pensions), with only 2-4% giving it top marks on any of the other issues. F! was also a one-issue party to voters, with recognized ‘expertise’ on gender equality but little elsewhere (besides 4% on immigration). In terms of blocs, the left led clearly on the environment (55-30), immigration (35-28-17), healthcare (46-32), social welfare (47-32), pensions (40-28) and profits in welfare (44-30); the right only led clearly on the economy (45-35) and personal economy (43-33).
In demographic terms, there were few surprises. The gender gap is minimal, although SD remains considerably more masculine (10% to 6%) while the Greens and F! are more feminine (10-7 and 8-4 respectively). Younger voters, naturally, tend to be more supportive of new parties – the Greens, F! and (historically) SD – while S and M are considerably weaker with younger groups (S won 20% and 23% and M won 19% in the 18-21 and 20-23 groups respectively); older voters are more supportive of S and M, with S winning 37% with those over 65 (23% for M) and 28% with those 31 to 64. Green support drops to only 3% with voters over 65. V, C, Fp and now SD have balanced support across all age groups (although V is a bit weaker with the oldest folks) while KD does better with seniors (7% with those 65+). According to a more detailed historical breakdown of voting patterns (1956-2010) published in 2011 by Göteborgs Universitet, S has usually had balanced support among both genders but M is generally a bit more male-heavy; in terms of age, the Greens (and V) seem to be strongest with young adults 23-40 (instead of the youngest voters), S’ support has historically held up better with older voters while it lost more to other parties over time with younger voters.
Class remains a salient cleavage in vote choice in Sweden. The Social Democrats won blue-collar workers with 40% against only 13% for M, with a strong 12% for the far-right. V polled 9% and Mp 8% with workers. Historically, however, S won upwards of 70% of industrial workers’ votes, having been hurt by V (in 1998 and 2002) and by M (in 2006 and 2010). S also won LO unionized workers 50% to 11% (SD), with 10% apiece for V and M; likewise, this is also significantly lower than S results with LO members in the heydays of social democracy. The Moderates narrowly retained officials/white-collar workers, 26% to 23% (it had won them 34% to 20% in 2010), with solid numbers for Fp (8%), Greens (9%), C (7%) and V (8%) but weaker results for SD. According to the more detailed aforecited study, right-wing support increases with the rank of the employee – S wins lower-level employees by a wide margin, while M wins higher-level employees (managerial) by resounding margins, with those in between splitting more equally (the Greens do best with mid-level employees, and Fp with higher-level employees). Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs remained resoundingly right-wing, voting 36% for M and only 15% for S, with a solid 10% for C (which often defends small businesses) and above-average for Mp (8%), Fp and KD as well. Farmers voted C 45% to 14% each for M and S; although small sample sizes in recent years make it tough to see whether M or KD have made lasting inroads with previously C-voting farmers. As in other countries, public sector employees backed the left by a wide margin – 34% for S, 10% for V and 9% for Mp compared to 33% for the Alliance (with 16% for M) and 7% each for SD and F!; in Sweden, those employed by municipal governments are more left-wing (56% red-green) than those who worked for the State (47% red-green). Private sector employees narrowly preferred M over S, 27% to 25%, with a solid showing for SD (9%) and average support for the other parties.
Unemployed voters split 37% S, 17% M and 13% SD, while those currently on sick leave voted heavily for the left (43% S, 15% V) and SD (14%). Students went in large numbers to the smaller left-wing parties – only 21% for S, but 15% for the Greens, 14% for the Feminists and 10% for the Left; M managed 16%, with 7% apiece for C and Fp while the far-right recorded only 5% of students’ votes. The exit polls had no data on education levels, unfortunately; however, the study linked to above has some old data on education levels, which showed that voters with high education (tied to wealth, which is another major vote determinant in Sweden) have tended to lean heavily towards the right, M and Fp in particular (even more so in the past; 57% in 2010), with strong support for the Greens (16% in 2010) but very weak numbers for S (18% in 2010) and the far-right (1%). Voters with low educational achievement have, on the other hand, tended to solidly support S (about 50% in 2010) with weak numbers for the right (34% in 2010) and the Greens (2% in 2010) but also the highest support for SD (7% in 2010). Interestingly, the data also broke down voting patterns based on the field of education – teaching, the humanities, arts seem to be particularly pro-Green (no surprises); health and social care seem to be pro-S while administration, technical education and engineering seem to be right-leaning.
A more recent solid reservoir of support for S has been immigrants and foreign-born Swedes, particularly non-Europeans. With voters who themselves and their parents grew up outside of Europe, 43% voted S, 18% voted V and only 14% voted for the Moderates (some 3% voted SD) – a total of 71% of the vote for the three parliamentary left-wing parties. The Social Democrats also performed well with non-Nordic Europeans, receiving 41% of their votes against 20% for M and 8% for SD and V each (a more modest 53% for the red-greens); however, non-Swedish Nordics more or less voted in line with the country.
Religious practice is a secondary, but fairly important, factor in vote choice. The Social Democrats showed little variation with degrees of religiosity. However, KD’s support varies directly in relation to religiosity – among voters who claimed that they went to church at least once a month, 24% voted KD – making them the second-largest party behind S (26%) and far ahead of their Alliance partners, including M (14%). According to the document linked to above, KD polled even better with regular church-goers in its better years – up to 37-40% of the vote in 1998 and 2002. With voters at the other end – those who never go to church – the Christian Democrats won only 2% of the vote, compared to 27% for S, 22% for M, 11% for V and 10% for the Greens. Amusingly, the Fp have lost all traces of their past links to the free churches – whereas up until the 1970s, Fp’s support increased with higher church attendance, Fp now is weakest with regular church-goers (5%). Interestingly, while V and F! clearly poll better with less religious voters, religiosity does not seem to have an impact on the Greens, who polled 9% with regular church-goers and 10% with those who never go. The far-right is weakest with the most religious voters; the Church of Sweden has spoken out against SD’s immigration policies.
The SVT exit poll also included interesting data on ideological self-identification. In this election, a plurality of respondents identified as left-wing (43%) rather than right-wing (36%), with 20% identifying with neither. In 2006 and 2010, elections won by the right, a plurality of respondents identified with the right (42-38 in 2010 and 41-37 for the right in 2006); going back further, most identified on the left in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 elections – all won by the left – but most identified with the right in 1991. Unsurprisingly, almost all V voters identify as left-wing (96%). An increasing number, from the 1990s, of S voters also identify as left-wing (74%, compared to 67% in 1991), due to a decline in the percentage of S voters identifying with neither left nor right. Green voters have also shifted heavily towards left-wing self-identification (69%, and over 70% in 2006 and 2010; compared to 43% in 1991), due to a decline in the percentage of their voters identifying as neither but also those identifying as right-wing (14% in 1991). On the other hand, C voters have moved in the opposite direction, with far heavier self-identification with the right than in the 1990s (65% in 2014, 42% in 1991). An increasing number of Fp and KD voters also identify with the right (73% and 77% respectively in 2014, compared to 60% and 56% in 1991). Moderates voters have always identified very heavily with the right, although since Reinfeldt and 2006, there’s been a small decline in the intensity of their right-wing identification – 84% in 2014, compared to 91% in 1998 and 2002. Finally, in 2014, SD voters identified largely as right-wing (44%) or neither (39%), with only 17% identifying as left-wing.
Geographically, Swedish elections are marked by a rough (and certainly not universal/perfect) north-south and urban-rural divide. Class remains the top voting determinant, as the exit polls may tell you. Working-class regions remain solidly left-wing, with weak results for the right, although in many cases SD has become a very important force in blue-collar towns and neighborhoods (running a distant second to SAP or a very strong third behind M). Upper-class and upper middle-class areas – ‘villa suburbs’ (single-detached homes) – are, on the other hand, solidly right-wing: in urban areas, this is where M, Fp and C usually do best (the KD may also poll well, although their vote tends to be less correlated with high income). Gentrified inner-city areas with young, single, mobile and well-educated populations or student precincts near universities provide the best results for the ‘alternative left’ – Mp, V and F!. Rural areas’ voting, in reality, depends on what type of ‘rural area’ it is: industrialized, working-class towns in rural inland Sweden are Social Democratic strongholds (in some cases with some substantial support for V, and in most cases today with strong support for SD); rural areas more dominated by agriculture in the past still are the Centre Party’s best regions (for all the hubbub about C’s green-libertarian shift, rural areas remain C’s stomping ground and cities are its weakest spots).
Northern Sweden is solidly left-wing – the Social Democrats won 48.7% in Norrbotten County, 46.3% in Västernorrland County, 42% in Västerbotten County, 39.8% in Jämtland County and 38.2% in Gävleborg County (its best results in the country) – and two of V’s three best constituencies were also in Norrland – Västerbotten (11%) and Norrbotten (8.6%). On the other hand, the Greens placed below their national average in every Norrland county, while F! only polled above its national average in Västerbotten County. The Moderates’ five lowest results in the country came from the north, polling as low as 12.9% in Norrbotten County. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – most major industrial centres were located outside the major cities, notably Stockholm. Resource-rich but sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old resource-based industrial region – forestry, the timber industry and iron ore mining have been very important to region’s economy. Kiruna and Gällivare municipalities in the Malmfälten (ore fields) region of Norrbotten County were very important iron ore mining centres, which have featured prominently in Sweden’s economic and labour history (with the LKAB strike in 1969-1970), while the port city of Luleå has been the base of a large metallurgical industry. Sundsvall in Västernorrland was the centre of a large sawmill/pulp and paper industry, while Skellefteå had an important gold mining industry. Working-class and poor, the region has long leaned to the left, although the Centrists had strong support in more rural locations (C won 11.3%, its second best result, in Jämtland County, which has less industry) and Västerbotten County had an important free church/non-conformist base (the county used to be one of Fp’s strongest counties, but has since died out). The Communists were strong in the iron ore fields. Since the 1960s, the region has experienced economic downturns and out-migration – the population peaked in the 1960s and has since declined, and the steel industry was hit by the 1970s steel crisis. Today, the public sector is a major employer. Some cities have successfully transitioned to a post-industrial economy, especially Umeå in Västerbotten County, which is home to the north’s most prominent university.
While the left did well in Norrland again, the far-right made some substantial gains. In Gävleborg County, SD won 16% – up from 7% in 2014 – making it one of its best counties in Sweden; but SD also managed some impressive results in Norrbotten County, with 11%, compared to only 4.2% in 2010. In Norrbotten County, both S and V lost support (-3.1% for S and – 0.7% v), meaning that a substantial part of SDs’ +7% gain came at the left’s expense. In the old mining town of Gällivare, SD won 15%, making it the second largest party behind S (50.5%) and ahead of V (11.6%). In Kiruna, SD won 13.2% against 47.4% for S and 11.6% for V. In Gävleborg County, SD won 15.8% in the industrial city of Gävle and even higher in smaller working-class sawmill or railway towns. However, SD remained below its national average in every county except Gävleborg, and Västerbotten County was its second-worst constituency with only 7.4% of the vote. In the university town of Umeå, SD won only 5.7% – the Left (12.3%), Greens (8.1%) and Feminists (6%) did quite well in the city. In the old industrial town of Skellefteå, which has regenerated with a IT industry, SD also did poorly (7.8%) while S won a landslide (50.2%).
On the other hand, the Stockholm region leans heavily towards the right. The Moderates defeated the Social Democrats in Stockholm county (which excludes the city itself) 32.7% to 24.1%, while in Stockholm city, M won 27.7% against 21.6% for S and 11.2% for the Greens.
As noted in the demographic analysis, class remains a salient cleavage and the Moderates are stereotypically painted by their opponents as an elitist, upper-class party. While that’s a gross oversimplification, the Moderates’ best results come from wealthy areas. Stockholm county includes some of Sweden’s most affluent suburban localities, which are also some of the most right-wing areas in the country. In Danderyd, the wealthiest town in Sweden, M won 49.98% – down slightly from 2010 – while S only came in fifth, behind the three other Alliance parties (Fp 11.9%, KD 10.5%, C 7.1%). The Moderates also won by similarly massive margins in other very affluent suburban municipalities such as Täby (45.3%), Lidingö (44.7%) and Vaxholm (41.1%). The Social Democrats were more successful in poorer suburban municipalities such as Botkyrka, where S won 36.2% to M’s 22.1% and SDs’ 10.3% – the northern half of the town includes a lot of poor immigrant areas (in the Botkyrka Norra election district, S won 50.1% against 12.3% for M and 9% for V); or in Södertälje, a manufacturing centre with a large immigrant population, where S won 32% against 23.1% for M and 12.4% for SD.
The city of Stockholm has traditionally leaned towards the bourgeois party – the city, which was never a working-class industrial capital, is wealthy and often known for its very high house prices. The Moderates won 27.7% in the city against 21.6% for S, 11.2% for the Greens, 7.9% for the Liberals and 7.2% for F! – which won its best national result in the capital city. There is a strong class divide in voting patterns in the city. The Moderates and their allies are strongest in Stockholm’s wealthy upscale districts, such as Östermalm, Norrmalm, Bromma, Västerled and so forth – in the Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan electoral district, which includes many of Stockholm’s affluent neighborhoods, M won 42.3% against 11.5% for Fp and only 10.2% for S. The right also dominated in the predominantly affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen electoral district, with M winning 35.1% against 14.5% for S, 10.6% for the Liberals and 10.3% for the Greens. However, in the Yttre Västerort district – which includes the ‘rough’ low-income immigrant neighborhoods of Rinkeby, Tensta and Husby – S won 35.1% against 22.7% for the Moderates. In the most heavily immigrant precincts, S received between 60 and 70% of the vote, although it did suffer some loses to the Greens and/or the Left in some low-income immigrant precincts. The district also includes some lower-income blue-collar neighborhoods in Hässelby-Vällingby borough. The gentrified central district of Södermalm, as well as other young bobo-type areas (Aspudden, Gröndal, Midsommarkransen, Årsta) are the Greens’ main strongholds in the city – in the electoral district of Södermalm-Enskede, the Greens placed third with 14.2% and the Feminists won a solid fourth place with 11.1% of the vote (eating into the Green vote, which fell 2.7%). First and second place went to M (23.2%) and S (19.5%), while V won sixth with 9.8%. In other neighborhoods of the city, the general trends were similar – the Social Democrats dominant in Million Programme-era low-income suburban areas (such as high-rise immigrant neighborhood Skärholmen, the Alliance parties hegemonic in upscale villa suburbs while the smaller left-wing parties (Mp, V, F!) won some good results in more middle-class, post-war/Million Programme suburbs. Stockholm, which is predominantly a well-educated and high-income city, was the weakest region in the country for the far-right (as was already the case previously), with SD winning only 6.6% in the city, its best results coming from the southeastern electoral district of Östra Söderort (8%, with its best results there coming from precincts in low-income Farsta and Hagsätra).
The Centre Party won 4.9% in Stockholm, better than what it won in Sweden’s two other major cities, but still very much at the low end of C’s national results. That’s one of the major issues with C’s libertarian/green-shift of late – its base remains rural, and votes gained in urban areas have not compensated for loses in rural areas. In urban areas, C’s vote seems to be tightly correlated with high incomes or high levels of education (since C won over 5% in the university towns of Uppsala and Lund, it also has a small base with libertarian students).
Class voting is starkest in Stockholm – according to this electoral atlas from 2010, there was a remarkably solid positive correlation between median income and the Alliance, particularly M and C, and a very strong positive correlation between the foreign-born population and the SAP vote.
In Svealand – central Sweden – outside of the capital region – the Social Democrats won some strong results: 39.1% in Värmland County, 37.9% in Örebro County, 35.9% in Västmanland County, 35.5% in Dalarna County and 34.6% in Södermanland County. In Uppsala County, the Social Democrats won only 28.9%, however, due to the the university town of Uppsala.
The other counties of inland central Sweden are, somewhat like Norrland, historically working-class industrial areas – specifically the Bergslagen, an old iron ore mining district straddling parts of Västmanland, Örebro, Värmland and Dalarna counties. The region is dotted with small industrial centres (mostly based around the iron and steel industries) and traditional left-wing SAP strongholds such as Borlänge (Dalarna County, 37.3% S), Avesta (Dalarna County, 41.8% S), Hedemora/Långshyttan (Dalarna County, 35.1% S), Ludvika (Dalarna County, 40.6% S), Fagersta (Västmanland County, 45% S), Söderfors (Uppsala County, 55.3% S), Surahammar (Västmanland County, 45.4% S), Hallstahammar (Västmanland County, 45% S), Karlskroga (Örebro County, 44.7% S), Degerfors (Örebro County, 51.2% S), Ljusnarsberg (Örebro County, 42% S), Filipstad (Värmland County, 46.2% S), Hagfors (Värmland County, 54.1% S), Munkfors (Värmland County, 58.1% S), Kristinehamn (Värmland County, 41.2% S), Arvika (Värmland County, 39.4% S), Oxelösund (Södermanland County, 44.1% S), Eskilstuna (Södermanland County, 35.5% S) and Nyköping (Södermanland County, 34% S). Although the left remained far ahead and the right did very poorly in these towns, SAP’s performance was comparatively poor – in most of the aforecited localities, S (and V, which is strong in some of these areas as well) lost votes compared to the 2010 election, while the far-right SDs did very well. SD won 16.8% in Dalarna County (winning 20% in Ludvika, 19.4% in Avesta, 17.7% in Borlänge), 15.1% in Södermanland County (with peaks at 20.5% in Vingåker and 16.6% in Eskiltuna), 14.8% in Västmanland County (18.6% in Fagersta), 14.4% in Örebro County (23.7% in Ljusnarsberg, 18% in Hällefors) and 12.6% in Värmland County (21.3% in Filipstad, 17.5% in Storfors but only 11.4% in Munkfors and Kristinehamn). The major cities of Västerås, Örebro and Karlstad were also industrial cities in the past – but with a more diversified economy and wealthier population – the Alliance performs better (and SD is weak), although S still won 34.7% in Karlstad, 32.4% in Örebro and 32.5% in Västerås (which had narrowly backed the Alliance in 2010).
As noted above, the prestigious and well-educated university city of Uppsala is weaker ground for the Social Democrats – who placed first, albeit with only 25.9% against 22.3% for M. The Greens (10.6% and third), Left (7.7%) and Feminists (5.6%) all polled very well in the municipality (and even better, naturally, in the city core and the student areas); while the far-right was predictably quite weak (8.1%). In Uppsala Mellersta electoral district, which includes the city core, M won 23% against 21.1% for S and 12.9% for the Greens. F! and V each won 8.1%; these ‘alternative’ leftist parties are especially strong in the student precincts (where F! or the Greens topped the poll), while the Social Democrats are stronger in low-income housing projects in the city’s peripheral regions and the right is strongest in the affluent and pricey inner city core (a spatial pattern repeated in other major cities and towns in Sweden).
Southern Sweden – Götaland – is politically diverse. The Social Democrats won Östergotland County with 32.6% against 22.3% for M and 14.4% for SD, with the SAP’s best numbers coming from the industrial cities of Finspång (43.2%), Boxholm (44.1%), Motala (39.8%) and Mjölby (37.7%). The major cities- the Saab manufacturing town of Linköping (29.1% S, narrow Alliance plurality) and the old textile centre of Norrköping (30.9% S) are politically mixed. Norrköping also had a very strong showing from SD (16.3%) thanks to its strong performance in low-income suburban housing projects.
Jönköping County is Sweden’s ‘bible belt’ (or frikyrkolänet) – the free churches, and the associated grassroots movements, are strong in the county; in the Gnosjöregionen in the southwest of the couty, there is also a strong conservative entrepreneurial tradition (Gnosjöandan). The Christian Democrats always win their best results in this county – this year, they won 10.4%, down from 12.9% in 2010. The Social Democrats, with 31.8%, placed first, while M placed second with 20.3%. The far-right placed third with 14.6%; by the looks of the SD numbers in KD strongholds such as Sävsjö (18.7% SD), the far-right must also have taken votes from the Christian Democrats. The left has some strength in railway towns or small industrial centres such as Tranås (36.1% S), Gislaved (35.4% S), Nässjö (33.8% S) as well as parts of Jönköping municipality (30.5% S vs. 21.9% M). The ‘bible belt’ does not spill over into other parts of Småland – in Kronoberg County , KD won only 5% and in Kalmar County only 4.6%; these regions have historically been dominated by the Church of Sweden. The ‘bible belt’ does have some spillover in the Gothenburg archipelago, however – Donsö and Vrångö islands off of Gothenburg, where KD won first with 34.3%, seem to be evangelical fishing communities.
The Social Democrats won the most votes in Kalmar County – 35.5% to M’s 20.4% and SD’s 15.3%; in Kronoberg County – 32.4% to M’s 21.9% and SD’s 15.6% and in Blekinge County – 37.2% to M’s 19.4% and a remarkable 18.6% for SD. Kronoberg County is a largely conservative region, although the centre-left parties won more votes than the Alliance there this year, with a strong rural base for C (9.1%) and the left’s strength usually limited to parts of the county capital of Växjö and the sawmill town of Lessebo (41.5% S). In Kalmar County, the left is considerably stronger – with its strength centered in the small industrial centres of Emmabodda (40.1% S), Hultsfred (39.6% S), Nybro (36.8% S), Västervik (39.3% S) and the shipbuilding and heavy manufacturing city of Oskarshamn (37.8% S) – although the right is usually strong on the island of Öland, in rural non-industrial areas and in the affluent coastal neighborhoods of the city of Kalmar. Blekinge County is the most left-wing county in the south of the country, thanks to solid Social Democratic votes in the shipbuilding coastal cities of Karlskrona and Karlsham and the industrial towns of Olofström and Sölvesborg. All three of these counties have suffered from rural depopulation and, especially so in the case of Blekinge County, the effects of deindustrialization and job losses. The far-right is strong throughout these three counties, both in working-class left-leaning towns and more rural localities which are more right-wing. In Blekinge County, SD polled 25% in Sölvesborg, 21.6% in Ronneby and 19.6% in Olofström. As one might except, SD is weaker in larger cities – or at least those which are wealthier – such as Kalmar (13.1% SD).
The island of Gotland is the Centre Party’s strongest region – it won third place with 13.4%, down about one point from the last election. The Social Democrats, who are strong in Visby – the island’s only major city – and the cement manufacturing town of Slite – placed first on the island with 32.2%, followed by the Moderates with 21.3%. Likely because of the importance of the tourism industry in the region, the far-right won only 8.2% on Gotland. The Centre Party won only 6.2% in urban Visby but 20.7% in the southern half of the island and 16.3% in the northern half.
The Moderates did well in Halland County, winning 27.7% against 28.4% for S and 12.9% for SD. The coastal north of the county – Kungsbacka municipality, where M won 38% to SAP’s 17.1% – includes some very affluent suburbs of Gothenburg. The rest of the county is more on the left – the mill town of Hylte is your typical SAP-stronghold industrial town (38.7% S, with SD in second with 18.5%), while the port cities of Varberg, Falkenberg and Halmstad are more divided – with affluent coastal areas and villages voting for the right, and S strong in working-class and low-income urban neighborhoods.
The Moderates won the city of Gothenburg/Göteborg by a hair – 23.9% to the Social Democrats’ 23.7%, followed by the Greens (9.8%), a weak SD (9.6%), a strong V (9.4% – their second best constituency result), the Liberals (7.2%) and strong Feminists (6.5% – also their second best constituency in Sweden, after Stockholm). However, the red-green parties won a narrow plurality of the votes (42.9% to 39.5%). Like other major cities in Sweden, Gothenburg is obviously a socioeconomically (and thus politically) diverse city. The affluent coastal suburbs of Gothenburg (the city’s most well-off areas) – included in the constituency of Göteborg, Väster (27.4% M to 19.5% S) are solidly right-wing, as are some high-end areas in the Centrum district and other villa suburbs (Skår, Överås, Härlanda). The ‘alternative left’ – especially V – is very strong is the gentrified Majorna-Linné district, which has a young, highly-educated but not very rich population. The alternative left’s strength carries over into the post-war lower middle-class housing projects in Örgrye-Härlanda district, which is also quite young and well-educated. The Social Democrats are especially strong in eastern Gothenburg – in the electoral district covering the city’s east end, SAP won 32.1% against only 17.3% for M, with strong showings from the Left (10.5%) and the Greens (10.2%). The municipal districts of Eastern Gothenburg and Angered mostly include low-income Million Programme housing projects with large immigrant populations (Angered, Gårdsten, Hammarkullen, Hjällbo, Kortedala, Bergsjön), and they’re SAP strongholds with over 50% of the vote – although, as seems to have been the case elsewhere in Sweden, V and the Greens did eat into the SAP’s huge margin in those immigrant neighborhoods. S also won in the Hisingen electoral district, with 29% to the Moderates’ 22.8% and SD’s 12.2% (its best result) – the district is a mix of conservative affluent coastal suburbs, regenerated harbourfront districts, large low-income immigrant-heavy housing projects (Länsmansgården, Biskopsgården and Backa) and older working-class areas.
The Social Democrats won the four other constituencies in Västra Gotäland. They only narrowly won the coastal constituency of Västra Gotäland West, with 27.1% to the Moderates’ 25.6% and SDs’ 13.4%. The constituency is made up of middle-class suburbs of Gothenburg (Mölndal, Härryda, Partille), affluent coastal resort towns (notably in Sotenäs municipality), evangelical fishing communities (with 5.7%, the constituency was KD’s second-best constituency in Sweden, and KD placed first on a number of small islands in the archipelago) and more industrial towns (Lysekil, Uddevalla). SAP won the northern constituency with 32.6% to M’s 20.1% and SDs’ 15.1%; the constituency includes Lerum, a middle-class suburb of Gothenburg which voted M, but also industrial centres (Trollhättan, Lilla Edet), poor inland industrial-tradition towns (Bengtsfors, Åmal, Mellerud, Färgelanda – Socialist towns where SD did well), well-off small towns and rural communities (where C, and, today, SD do well). SAP won the southern constituency by a similar margin, 31.1% to 22.3% for M and 15% for SD. Southern Västra Gotäland includes the old textile country – the city of Borås was one of Sweden’s leading textile towns, while the smaller textile towns of Kinna and Tranemo remain solidly left-wing (while Borås, which S won 31.4% to 23.3%, remains more divided because it has some very affluent central neighborhoods). Finally, the left’s best result in the county came from the eastern constituency, which SAP won 34.6% to 21% for M and 14.8% for SD. The constituency includes right-wing agricultural rural areas and industrial centres (Mariestad, Lidköping, Tidaholm, Tibro).
Skåne/Scania and Malmö
Skåne/Scania is Sweden’s most culturally distinctive region – part of Denmark until 1658 and incorporated into Sweden only in 1719 – the region has retained a strong regional identity (sometimes expressed politically by a few regionalist movements – such as the Skånepartiet, a party which mixed anti-immigration/anti-Islamism with separatism, which held seats on Malmö’s city council from 1985 to 2006) and, with the proximity to Denmark (made even closer with the Öresund Bridge), a certain Danish influence is still perceptible. Scania, which has more arable land and vast fertile plains, also contrasts geographically with densely forested Sweden. Some Swedes from other parts of the country may poke fun at the region, particularly its rather distinctive politics – which has, in recent years, become closely associated with the great strength of the far-right in the region. This year, SD won its top two results in two Scanian constituencies – 22.2% in Scania North and East (narrow second ahead of M) and 19.3% in Scania West, plus 16.6% in Scania South and 13.5% in Malmö. The Moderates topped the poll in southern Scania – 28.2% to S’ 24.6% and also did well in western Scania (24.5%). In Scania, the SDs are strong fairly uniformly – with peaks in some depressed industrial towns like Bromölla, a left-wing stronghold where SD came a strong second with 28.4%; Örkelljunga, with 26.6%; Svalöv, with 26.4%; Östra Göinge, with 26%; the old mining town (and SAP stronghold) of Bjuv, with 25.7%; Skurup, with 25.1%; and the port city of Trelleborg, with 23.8%.
The Sweden Democrats won their best national result in Sjöbo – placing first with 30% of the vote against 23.7% for S and 23.2% for M (whose support fell by over 11%). A fairly unremarkable exurban town (with an aging population and low educational levels) not far from Malmö, Sjöbo has been a hotbed for right-wing populism for quite some time now: in 1988, Sjöbo’s local government organized a highly controversial referendum in which locals voted against admitting any foreign asylum seekers. The mastermind of that controversial vote (a former C member) founded his own local party, the Sjöbopartiet, in 1991 and went on to become the largest party on council in 1994 and the party has retained a presence on council since then, winning 7.2% and 4 seats this year (a loss of 2 seats) against 20.8% for SD. SD also became the largest party in the neighboring municipality of Hörby, taking 27.4% to S’ 24.9% and M’s 19.5% (down nearly 14% since 2010).
The far-right also did well in the major regional towns of Landskrona, a left-leaning port city (18.8%, SAP won with 37.3% to M’s 19.9%) and Helsingborg, a socioeconomically mixed city with solidly right-wing bourgeois coastal villa suburbs and low-income southern neighborhoods (17.4%, SAP narrowly won with 29.5% to M’s 27.3%). SD also made substantial gains in affluent coastal suburbs and resort towns, where it was weak in 2010: in Båstad, where M’s vote fell by nearly 10 points to 34.7%, SD increased its support from 5.6% to 14.8%. In Höganäs, SD won 14.8%, up 8.4%, while M lost 8.5% (it still placed first with 33.9%). In Vellinge, one of the wealthiest town in Sweden outside of the Stockholm region, SD’s support shot up 9.5% to 16.5%, placing a distant second behind the Moderates, who won 48.6%, down from 59.1% in 2010. While the far-right’s strongest numbers did not come from the most affluent precincts where M wins huge numbers, it nonetheless did gain significant numbers of votes from M defectors.
SD, however, did poorly in the prestigious university town of Lund – it won only 9.2%, a paltry fifth place showing behind M (22.7%), S (22.7%), the Greens (12.3%) and Fp (9.8%). The Feminists, with nearly 6%, also did well, as did V (6.4%).
The red-green won 45.5% to the Alliance’s 34% in Malmö, an old industrial (shipbuilding) city which sometimes gets something of a bad rap, being portrayed by some as a crime-ridden decaying post-industrial city (which is far from the truth, needless to say). In 2010, the Moderates had won more votes than the Social Democrats – 32.6% to 28.7% – a major blow to the SAP in a city which had historically been considered as a Social Democratic stronghold. This year, SAP won 29.3% to M’s 23.2%, with the far-right in third with 13.5%. The Greens won 8.6%, the Left won 7.6% and F! and Fp both took 5.6%. Much like any other major city, Malmö’s voting patterns vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
The Social Democrats’ best results come from Rosengård, a very poor immigrant Million Programme neighborhood (about 80% of the population are foreign-born), with a peak at 78.7% of the vote for S in Herrgården (the most immigrant-heavy part of the Rosengård – mind you, SAP’s vote is actually down from 87.5% because V polled 11.6%) and about 65-70% in the rest of Rosengård, down some from 2010 because V and Mp seem to have gained some ground. While SD is obviously weak in the heart of Rosengård, it won one of its best results in the city in Almgården, a low-income (white) neighborhood adjacent to Rosengård, which gave 35.6% to SD against 41.9% for S. Other neighborhoods in the city with large immigrant populations – Augustenborg, Nydala, Hermodsdal, Söderkulla, Lindängen, Almvik, Segevång, Holma etc. – are also some of the Social Democrats’ best neighborhoods in the city, with results over 50-60% of the vote in most instances. In low-income neighborhoods or housing projects with lower immigrant populations, SD did best – although this year it also posted some impressive numbers in middle-class suburban areas. The ‘alternative left’ (Mp, V, F!) is very strong in gentrified inner-city areas: formerly working-class areas which are now home to a well-educated but not very rich young population – places such as Sofielund (where you get precincts like this), Sorgenfri, Rörsjöstaden and Möllevången – Malmö’s gentrified, multi-ethnic cultural mecca (where you have precincts with V and F! as the largest parties). The right – especially the Moderates – are strongest, of course, in Malmö’s upper middle-class neighborhoods – Bellevue, Nya Bellevue (over 55% for M and 13.5% for Fp), Hyllieby, Västervång, Fridhem and Västra hammen (the redeveloped harbourfront). The right is also generally the largest bloc in middle-class suburban areas, although in some areas M’s loses were fairly severe.
Local and regional elections
Local and regional elections were held on the same day. While there’s little need to go into detail here, a brief summary of results is presented.
In local (municipal) elections, SAP won 31.2% against 21.6% for M. Although SD expanded its presence on local councils to practically every single kommun in Sweden, it received only 9.3% of the national vote. C won 7.9%, the Greens won 7.8%, Fp won 6.6%, V won 6.4%, KD won 4%, F! won 1.2% and other (local) parties – which are strong in some municipalities – won 4.1%.
In Stockholm, which had a bourgeois majority since 2006, the red-greens and F! won a majority – 53 seats (24 S, 16 Mp, 10 V, 3 F!) against 42 for the right (28 M, 9 Fp, 3 C, 2 KD) and 6 for SD, which wins its first seats in the city council. In terms of vote shares, M remained the largest party in the capital with 27.2% (-7.2%), followed by S with 22% (-0.6%) and the Greens (14.3%, +0.5%). V also made gains, gaining 2 seats and 1.5% to reach 8.9%. C made minor gains in the vote share (+0.7% to 4.7%) and held its 3 seats (after having been absent from the capital’s city council from 1998 to 2006, it won 1 seat in 2006 and 3 in 2010). SD won 5.2%, up from 2.6% in 2010.
In Gothenburg, however, the red-green majority lost its narrow one-seat absolute majority but retained a plurality of seats. Together, S+Mp+V won 37 seats, down from 41, due to severe loses by the Social Democrats (down 7% and 5 seats to 22.4% and 20 seats) and gains by F!, which gained 3 seats on the back of 4% of the vote. V, with 9.4% and 8 seats, is up 1 seat from 2010. The Alliance won 30 seats (20 M, 3 KD, 7 Fp), SD doubled its presence from 3 to 6 members and a local anti-congestion charge party which emerged in 2010 held its 5 seats.
In Malmö, governed by the left since 1994, the left-wing parties expanded their majorities despite loses for SAP and sizable gains by SD. Together, the red-greens and Feminists won 35 seats, up from 31 in 2010, against only 17 for the Alliance, which lost 4 members. The far-right won 13.1% and 9 seats, up 2 seats. The main winners were SAP’s allies on the left – V won 8.5% (+3.3%) and 6 seats, its best result in local elections in the city; the Greens won 8.6% and 6 seats, up 1 seat from 2010. The Feminists, who won 3.2%, elected 2 councillors. A pensioners’ party represented since 1998 lost both of its seats.
The left also gained Uppsala, which the right had held since 2006. The red-greens and Feminists won 44 seats against 32 for the Alliance and 5 for SD, a loss of 9 seats for the Alliance and a gain of 6 for the left and 3 for SD. All four left-wing parties made gains, with strong results for the Greens (13.1% and 12 seats, +1) and V (8.7% and 8 seats, +2), although SAP also gained support (26.8% and 22 seats, +1). The Moderates, however, fell over 9 points and lost no less than 8 seats, from 23 to 15.
The minority red-green coalition in Västerås was returned with a one less seat (lost by SAP) while SD doubled its presence from 3 to 6 members. The right lost 2 seats. The left holds 29 seats to the right’s 26. The left retained Örebro with a reduced majority, in Linköping the Alliance lost its absolute majority and stands at 36 seats against 37 for the left and 6 for SD, in Jönköping, the governing Alliance-Green majority held on despite loses to SD and in Norrköping, the red-green government lost its majority. In the Scanian towns of Landskrona and Helsingborg, very strong results by SD (11 and 10 seats respectively) leaves both blocs with weak minorities, with the incumbent Fp+M+Green minority in Landskrona and the Alliance minority in Helsingborg in bad shape. In Lund, the right suffered major loses and the left (with F!) lack a majority but are now much larger than the right (the balance being held by SD’s 5 seats and 4 seats for a new local party). Umeå, finally, remains the most left-wing major city in Sweden with 42 seats against 21 for the right and 2 for SD. The local Marxist Arbetarpartiet, a splitoff from a Trot party which gained seats in 1998, won 2 seats – up 1 from 2010.
In the Landsting elections, S won 32.9% nationally against 21.5% for M and 9.1% for SD. The Greens won 7.2% and V won 7.1%. The incumbent red-green majorities held their majorities in Blekinge (where SD now has 7 out of 47 seats), Dalarnas (in coalition with a local healthcare party), Gotland, Jämtland, Kalmar, Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Västmanland and Örebro. In Västra Götaland, the red-green minority now holds 72 seats (-1, gains by V and Mp but loses by SAP) against 63 (-4) for the right and 14 for SD (+4). In Gävleborg County, the S+Mp+C coalition also lost its majority but would hang on with a decent-ish minority. In Södermanland, the S+Fp+Mp coalition lost its majority (30 seats vs. 4 V, 21 right, 8 SD and 8 local party). The Alliance lost its majority in Kronoberg County (25 seats vs. 30 for the left and 6 for SD), Uppsala County (where the left gained a clear majority) and Östergötland County (where the left is just 1 seat short of an absolute majority, as the right’s local ally lost all 8 seats and SD went from 4 to 10 seats). In Västernorrland, the broad Alliance-Green-local healthcare party coalition has lost its majority as the healthcare party disbanded, M lost 7 seats, SD gained 6 seats and SAP – with 48% of the vote – is just a seat short of an absolute majority on its own. In Värmland County, a similar incumbent coalition lost its absolute majority, but with 38 out of 81 seat, it may govern with a minority (although a red-green coalition would also work) with SD holding the balance of power with 7 seats. In Halland, the incumbent Alliance-Green majority retained its absolute majority despite major gains by SD (from 3 to 7 mandates), but in Jönköping an Alliance-Green coalition was reduced to a minority (2 seats short) due to major gains by SD (from 4 to 9 seats).
In Scania, governed by an Alliance-Green coalition since 2006, the right suffered substantial loses as SD made major gains. Overall, M, the largest party in 2010, lost 8.6% and 13 seats, falling from 48 to 35. The Liberals, who had 12 seats in 2010, are now left with only 9. Despite a one-seat gain by the Greens, who won 6.7% and 11 seats, and no seat loses by the small C and KD, the Alliance-Green coalition is left with 67 seats, down 15 seats. The SAP and Left hold 59 seats, a gain of 6 seats – SAP returned as the largest party with a solid 32.4% (+1.8% and 51 seats) while V also made gains, from 6 to 8 mandates. The major winners were, of course, the far-right in their stomping ground: SD won 14.5%, up 5.3%, and now stands as the kingmaker with a hefty 23 seats – up from 14 in 2010 and 10 in 2006.
In Stockholm County, governed by the Alliance since 2006, the right-wing parties lost their absolute majority but may govern as a minority. The Moderates lost 14 seats and 8.6%, although with 28.2% they remained the largest party. The Social Democrats won 26.4% and 41 seats, a gain of 2. The Left, with 12 seats and 7.7%, gained 2 members and 1.5%; the Green vote remained stable at 10% and they held their 15 seats. The Liberals, with 8.2%, lost 1.1% and 2 seats (down to 13); but C and KD gained 1 and 2 seats respectively. SD won 5.9%, a 3% gain which is enough to put them above the 3% threshold in regional elections and gives them their first 9 seats on the Landsting.
SD is now represented in every single Landsting.
Finally, I can wrap up this summer-long analysis of the results of the EP elections in the EU’s 28 member-states, with a final look at the last two member-states in this series – Spain and Sweden.
Turnout: 43.81% (-1.09%)
Seats: 54 (nc)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (national constituency)
PP (EPP) 26.09% (-16.03%) winning 16 seats (-8)
PSOE (S&D) 23.01% (-15.77%) winning 14 seats (-9)
Izquierda Plural (GUE/NGL) 10.03% (+6.32%) winning 6 seats (+4)
Podemos (GUE/NGL) 7.98% (+7.98%) winning 5 seats (+5)
UPyD (ALDE) 6.51% (+3.66%) winning 4 seats (+3)
CEU (ALDE/EPP) 5.42% (+0.32%) winning 3 seats (nc)
EPDD (G-EFA) 4.01% (+1.52%) winning 2 seats (+1)
C’s (ALDE) 3.16% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+2)
LPD (GUE/NGL) 2.08% (+0.96%) winning 1 seat (+1)
PE (G-EFA) 1.92% (+1.92%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Vox 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PACMA 1.13% (+0.87%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.79% (+2.81%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Map source: Wikipedia
Spain is the EU’s fifth largest economy and also its fifth most populous member-state. Since 2008, Spain has been hit hard by the economic crisis, and the country’s protracted economic and social crisis has had significant political ramifications.
Spain enjoyed several years of solid economic growth at the turn of the century, including five consecutive years (2003 to 2007) of growth over 3%. The roots of this growth – and, subsequently, the collapse and prolonged economic crisis – was a rapid property boom between 1997 and 2007, characterized by an exponential increase in housing prices and a booming construction industry. The housing bubble was caused by a strong push towards home ownership in Spain during the transition to democracy, which was promoted by government policies (15% of mortgage payments were tax-deductible, and the liberalization of land use and construction regulations), low interest rates, the lax terms on mortgage loans granted by banks to individuals and businesses. Between 1997 and 2007, the average price by square metre increased from just over €1000/m² to just under €3000/m². To accede to property ownership, many households became heavily indebted – in 2007, when the bubble burst, household debt stood at nearly 130% of income. Although all the warning signs of a housing bubble and its inevitable explosion had been there for several years, successive governments – both José María Aznar’s conservative People’s Party (PP) government from 1996 to 2004 and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s first Socialist (PSOE) government from 2004 to 2008 – kept whistling the problem away, insisting that Spain’s growth was built on very solid and sustainable foundations, and promoted the myth that Spanish banks were the strongest in western Europe. Politicians, banks, the construction industry and Spanish homeowners in general were all complicit in the bubble. Similar to the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, Spanish banks – especially the cajas de ahorro (savings banks) – granted mortgage loans on extremely lax terms. Politicians invested heavily in the housing sector, and took advantage of the low interest rates and the cajas‘ terms to indulge in ambitious and lavish pet projects – new highways, new airports, new housing developments, new cultural centres and museums, expansion of the high-speed rail network (AVE) and other projects which have become white elephants, symbols to the optimism and illusions of the bubble years. Regional governments – Spain’s seventeen comunidades autónomas (autonomous communities) account for 35-40% of total spending and have extensive powers on matters such as healthcare and education – borrowed and spent heavily. Some of the regions which became the most heavily indebted were the coastal boom regions of the Valencian Community, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Murcia and Andalusia but also interior regions such as Castilla-La Mancha.
In the 2008 electoral campaign, the governing PSOE ran heavily on the idea that Spain was an economic champion, dismissed the opposition PP’s warnings as fear-mongering and made several promises to voters (notably a cheque bebé – a €2500 grant for every Spanish baby). Pedro Solbes, the Socialist finance minister at the time, repeatedly dismissed all warning signs of the impeding collapse as being extremely exaggerated. In any case, the PSOE was reelected with a plurality of seats, and responded to the ‘deceleration’ of the Spanish economy with a stimulus package which injected millions of euros into the banks, public works projects and goodies. However, with GDP growth collapsing to only 0.9% in 2008, the Socialist government was quickly forced to admit that there was a crisis and to adopt austerity measures, which became increasingly hard-hitting and stringent as time passed and the slowdown became a full-blown crisis. Between the third quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, for example, the unemployment rate increased dramatically from 11.2% to 17.2%. Several cajas threatened to go under, having invested heavily in the construction industry, and the government intervened to inject liquidity into several of them beginning in 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, the Socialist government passed several austerity packages which included tax hikes (a 2% increase in the VAT to 18% in 2009), wage cuts for public servants, a pension freeze, the elimination of the cheque bebé and spending cuts. In 2010, a labour reform which included a shorter term for severance pay and strengthened the employer’s ability to unilaterally modify working conditions led to a general strike in September 2010. In 2011, finally, the government’s pension reform increased the retirement age to 67.
The PSOE’s popularity collapsed in 2010 and 2011, and the party suffered extremely several loses in the regional and municipal elections in May 2011. In July 2011, Zapatero announced snap elections would be held in November 2011 and that he would not be the PSOE’s candidate for the presidency of the government (in Spain, the ‘Prime Minister’ is known as the Presidente del Gobierno). Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who had been the First Vice President of the government under Zapatero, led a demoralized and pessimistic PSOE into the election. Zapatero left behind a catastrophic economic and social situation: unemployment now stood at over 21%, the deficit had ballooned to 9.6% of GDP (between 2005 and 2008, the government had run a surplus), Spain’s low-ish public debt had increased to 70.5% from 40% in 2008 and growth was going red again after a short-lived period of growth in early 2011 (Spain was in recession in 2009 and 2010, with -3.8% and -0.2%; growth was 0.1% in 2011). In this context, the opposition PP – despite its deadwood leader, Mariano Rajoy, having lost two successive elections (in 2004 and 2008) and the party failing to generate much enthusiasm at all, was the runaway favourite to win. In order to maximize its chances of winning, the right-wing PP promised ill-defined ‘change’ and ‘austerity without pain’ – no tax hikes, a revaluation of pensions or cuts where it would hurt (education, healthcare, social services). In fact, the PP even attacked the PSOE for the government’s cuts to social benefits. Regardless of what one might say about this kind of campaigning, the voters trusted the PP on the issues which mattered (the economy and jobs), and the PSOE suffered an historic rout. The PP won 44.6% and 186 in the Congress of Deputies, giving it an absolute majority and its best result in any election. The PSOE, however, won only 28.8%, its worst result in the party’s post-Francoist history. The election also saw an uptick in support for the United Left (IU), the old radical left coalition around the Communist Party (PCE) – which won 11 seats, up 9; the centrist anti-nationalist Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) led by former Socialist Rosa Díez, which won 5 seats. In the regions, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) suffered an historic defeat at the hands of the moderate nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition, which had regained power regionally a year prior; in the Basque Country, the abertzale left (nationalist left) Amaiur coalition placed second with an historically high level of support – the nationalist left in Euskadi has been benefiting splendidly from the 2010 cease-fire and now “definitive cessation of armed activity” (since October 2011) announced by the terrorist separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which has signaled the conclusion of violence in the region after over 50 years.
The economy plunged back into recession in the second quarter of 2011, and remained mired in recession until the third quarter of 2013. On taking power, Mariano Rajoy soon had to deal with the harsh reality of power and the Spanish economy. In its first austerity package in December 2011, the government increased income and land value taxes, froze the minimum wage and public sector wages, froze public sector hiring (except in the security forces, education and healthcare) and cut spending by €8.9 billion; but it still had some goodies to offer – a revaluation of pensions by 1%, continuing a €400 subsidy to the long-term unemployed and the mortgage tax deduction. Madrid, for now, was committed to reducing its deficit to 4.4% in 2012 (from 9.6% in 2011), as agreed upon with the EU, but it soon became clear that Spain would miss its deficit target and that the amount of cuts required to meet the target were unrealistic. In March 2012, Rajoy changed Spain’s deficit target to 5.8%. The government’s first budget, announced at the end of March 2012, announcing savings to reduce the deficit by €27 billion – including the largest spending cuts in the history of Spanish democracy. However, while the government cut spending and raised taxes, it doggedly refused to increase the VAT, cut public servants’ wages or touch pensions and unemployment benefits. The government later changed course, and announced a 3% increase in the VAT to 21%, after having previously refused to raise it. In April, the government also announced further cuts worth €10 billion, mostly in education and healthcare (which meant co-pays in healthcare, increased class sizes, increase in tuition fees), and these cuts led to an historic strike by public education employees in May 2012.
The PP government’s labour law reform in February 2012 aimed at increasing ‘flexibility’ by making it easier for employers to layoff employees by further reducing the duration of severance pay (20 days’ pay for each year worked, for a maximum of 12 months for ‘appropriate dismissals’; and down from 45 to 33 days’ wages for each year worked for a maximum of 24 months for inappropriate dismissals), loosening the reasons for which employees may be laid off (employees must now prove that the dismissal was inappropriate), facilitating collective dismissals including in the public sector and allowing for employers to make unilateral decisions on working conditions in certain cases. Considering it as an attack on workers’ rights, all leading labour unions called for a general strike on March 29.
The government faced another major challenge: the banking sector, which was shackled by ‘toxic assets’ and a high number of bad loans, left overs from the ‘debt binge’ of the real estate boom years when households and contractors took out loans on lax terms. After the bubble burst, banks acquired properties from developers before the loans which supported them went bad. Foreclosures mounted as recession set in, leaving Spanish banks as the owners of a very large stock of empty homes. Many felt that Rajoy’s government evaluated the crisis the wrong way – it treated public finances as the cause of the economic crisis, rather than the symptom, and wasted precious time by attacking the deficit when it should have cleaned up the banking sector. In the spring and summer of 2012, Spain faced a banking crisis, which forced the government to take decisive action. Two financial reforms were approved in February and May 2012, both with the aims of cleaning up the banking sector and restructuring the myriad of failing cajas into stronger, larger financial entities. The state had previously been forced to intervene in several cajas, by nationalizing or recapitalizing them, and despite the financial reforms, would be forced to intervene when Bankia – a large bank created by the merger of seven cajas, badly exposed to the housing bubble, in 2011 – needed injections of €10 billion in public funds, which soon spiraled upwards to €23.5 billion and was nationalized by the state. Rodrigo Rato, the former Managing Director of the IMF and Spain’s economy and/or finance minister under Aznar’s government, had previously resigned as president of Bankia. In the wake of Bankia, in a ‘black Monday’, other Spanish banks saw their shares drop and risk premiums reached all-time highs, close to the levels at which Greece, Portugal and Ireland had been forced to seek EU-IMF bailouts; yet, Rajoy insisted that there would be no need for a bailout of Spain’s banking sector. The government’s handling of the crisis was criticized by the ECB’s Mario Draghi and PSOE leader Rubalcaba.
After other banks required public money, an IMF report estimated the total costs of recapitalizing the banking sector at €40 billion. Despite constant claims that there would be no need for a bailout, in early June 2012, the government announced that it had negotiated a €100 billion rescue package for the banks, to be held by the state through the government’s Fondo de reestructuración ordenada bancaria (FROB), the banking bailout and restructuring fund. The money would go directly to the banks rather than through the government, would not count as sovereign debt, would come from the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and would be directly supervised by the Troika. Rajoy and his minister of the economy, Luis de Guindos, refused to call the loan a ‘bailout’. The loan agreement did little little to alleviate the crisis and even sparked another credit rating downgrade and a surge in risk premium values to even higher levels. In August 2012, the Spanish government set up a ‘bad bank’ to isolate the toxic assets.
In July 2012, the EC agreed to raise the 2012 deficit objective to 6.3% of GDP, in return for immediate cuts to reach this objective. Rajoy announced another massive austerity package of €65 billion in cuts over two years to reach the deficit targets, including further cuts in social benefits, an immediate increase in the VAT, cuts in long-term unemployment benefits, the cancellation of the mortgage tax deduction and public servants’ Christmas bonus and more tax hikes. The health ministry announced a list of drugs which would no longer be covered by social security and abolished free healthcare assistance for illegal immigrants. The government continued the policy of spending cuts and tax increases in 2013, culminating with a pension reform in late 2013. The reform, opposed by all other parties, dissociates inflation from the calculation of pensions, takes into account the expenses and revenues of social security in a new revaluation formula and adds a ‘sustainability factor’ (life expectancy) to determine the size of the pension.
Despite the relaxed deficit target, Spain’s deficit in 2012 – excluding the cost of the bank bailout – still overshot the target, at about 7% of GDP (10.6% with the bailout). For 2013 and 2013, the EC set looser targets of 6.5% and 5.8%, with the aim being to achieve the EU’s 3% deficit limit in 2016. In 2013, Eurostat reported the deficit at 7.1% and the EC projects a 5.6% deficit in 2014.
The last few months of 2013, however, saw the first signs of a very fragile economic recovery. The last two quarters of 2013 saw positive quarter-on-quarter growth rates, and official statistics indicate the growth is steadily picking up – the EC predicts 1.1% growth this year and 2.1% growth in 2012, which means that Spain will finally exit its prolonged economic slump after over two years in recession. Unemployment increased during the año negro of 2012, from 22.6% in the last quarter of 2011 to a peak of 26.9% in the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment has been declining, slowly, since early 2013, falling to 24.5% in the second quarter of 2014, the lowest in two years. However, with over 5.6 million unemployed, Spain has the second highest unemployment rate in the EU after Greece. And, like in Greece, it will take years for unemployment to return to pre-crisis levels (8%) – the EC projects 24% unemployment in 2015. Exports have been growing, turning the external current account from a deficit to a surplus, suggesting that Spain is regaining competitiveness and providing the backbone of recovery. In December 2013, after receiving €41.3 billion, the ESM bailout program for Spanish banks ended on schedule.
Given that Spain’s autonomous communities account for a good deal of public spending in Spain, and that many of them became heavily indebted and were running large deficits when the crisis hit, they too have faced a tough time as they try to reduce their debts and deficits. On the latest figures, the total debts owed by Spain’s 17 regions was equivalent to 21.7% of the national GDP; while their deficits in 2013 represented 1.5% of the country’s GDP – down from 2.9% in 2010 and 2011. The most heavily indebted communities remain the Valencian Community (34.8% of regional GDP), Castilla-La Mancha (33.5%), Catalonia (31%), the Balearic Islands (27%) and Murcia (23%); while the regions with the largest deficits in 2013 were Murcia (3.2%), the Valencian Community (2.3%), Castilla-La Mancha (2.1%), Aragon (2.1%) and Catalonia (2%). The region’s failures to meet the deficit targets set by the central government contributed heavily to Spain’s budget overshoots in the last few years. The central government pressed the regional governments to make major cuts and reforms to reduce their debts and deficits to Madrid’s target, a tough task somewhat simplified by the fact that there was less central-regional feuds because most regions are governed by the PP since 2011. However, the PSOE government of Andalusia and the CiU government of Catalonia both argued that the targets set by Madrid were unrealistic and excessively rigid, and that meeting them would require them to make even deeper cuts. Regional governments – especially those in Catalonia, the Valencian Community or Castilla-La Mancha (among others) – have implemented stringent austerity measures, cutting benefits, public spending, selling public assets and rising taxes as they could. Yet, most regions, like the central government, have continuously overshot the targets.
The government’s austerity measures have been unpopular and led to several protests. After the general strike in March 2012 and the historic general strike in public education in May 2012, several sectoral strikes and anti-austerity protests followed in 2012, ending with another general strike in November 2012. Some movements took even more radical actions – in Andalusia, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT), a Andalusian nationalist and anti-capitalist union whose most prominent figure is Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, an IU regional deputy and mayor of the anarcho-syndicalist/communist stronghold of Marinaleda since 1979, organized spectacular ‘Robin Hood’ raids on supermarkets in the region, ‘expropriating’ basic foodstuffs or school supplies to redistribute to poor families. The increase in the number of evictions since the housing bubble burst has led to social despair and several highly-publicized suicides.
Education minister José Ignacio Wert’s education reform (LOMCE) in late 2013 has extremely unpopular on the left and with students. The new reform is criticized for introducing standardized testing at the end of each educational level, the greater place given to religious education in the curriculum, the central government’s power to determine subjects and curricula and the reduced place for co-official regional languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician). Coming during the debate over an independence referendum in Catalonia, Wert’s declaration in October 2012 that his aim was to españolizar a los niños catalanes (‘hispanicize Catalan children’) added fuel to the fire, providing the Catalan nationalists with yet another example of how Catalonia is allegedly mistreated by the rest of Spain. The left, which has promised to repeal the LOMCE if elected, has claimed that the PP is ‘dismantling’ public education. The cuts and the PP’s enthusiasm for controversial schemes to contract out managements of hospitals to private companies has led to claims that the government is out to dismantle public services.
Adding to the growing social discontent and dissatisfaction with both major parties have been a series of high-profile corruption cases, involving both major parties but also the monarchy.
Spanish monarch Juan Carlos I, who abdicated shortly after the EP elections on June 2 in favour of his son Prince Felipe, has seen his legendary popularity tumble following royal missteps and corruption scandals, most notably his ill-advised hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 (in addition to revelations of his womanizing). The former King’s daughter, Infanta Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have been embroiled in a major corruption scandal relating to kickbacks Urdangarin received from regional governments. The infanta Cristina was charged with corruption in January 2014.
Over the last few years, several politicians from both major parties have been accused of corruption. In the Valencian Community, a stronghold of the PP, the regional president Francisco Camps – an ally of Rajoy – was finally forced to resign in June 2011 after years of scandal surrounding his involvement in a huge kickbacks-for-contracts scheme (Caso Gürtel). Camps was later acquitted, but the Caso Gürtel continues to linger in the background. In the same region, millions in international development funds were embezzled by businesses and fraudulent ‘NGOs’ with the cooperation and support of a high-ranking member of the regional government and local PP, who was finally sentenced to jail in May 2014. In Andalusia, which has been ruled by the PSOE since the creation of regional government in 1978, millions of euros were fraudulently siphoned off in government-subsidized illegal early retirement deals. The PP had hoped to benefit from the EREgate scandal and Andalusia’s catastrophic economic situation in the March 2012 regional elections, and polls indicated that Javier Arenas’ PP was on track to win an historic absolute majority in the left-wing stronghold. However, the PP, albeit winning the most votes in a regional election for the first time in its history, failed to win a majority and PSOE incumbent José Antonio Griñán was reelected in coalition with IU (which made significant gains). The PP’s surprise ‘defeat’ in Andalusia was seen as an early warning sign for Rajoy.
Controversially, judge Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most famous magistrate who led judicial investigations into domestic and international cases (most notably the attempted persecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet), was expelled from the judiciary in 2012 for illegally wiretapping conversations (ruled as perverting the course of justice) between inmates and their lawyers in the Caso Gürtel. This sparked an outcry on the left, judging that the ruling against Garzón was excessive and that he was being persecuted by his peers and other enemies in the judiciary.
The biggest scandal, however, has been the caso Bárcenas, first revealed to the public eye in January 2013. El País published handwritten notes belonging to Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the PP (until 2009), then under investigation in the Caso Gürtel (where he was accused of pocketing millions in illegal donations from businessmen). These notes indicated the existence of a parallel, illegal financing system in the PP between 1990 and 2009 and suggested that regular cash payments had been made from a slush fund (whose donors were mostly construction magnates) to several leading members of the PP including current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy himself allegedly received €25,000 a year for eleven years; other leading figures of the PP including former Prime Minister José María Aznar, Rodrigo Rato (finance minister under Aznar), Ángel Acebes (interior minister under Aznar), Javier Arenas (labour minister, later minister of the presidency under Aznar, and current leader of the Andalusian PP), Jaime Mayor Oreja (MEP and former interior minister under Aznar from the PP’s far-right) and María Dolores de Cospedal (current president of Castilla-La Mancha and secretary-general of the PP) are also suspected of having benefited from illegal party bonuses. Although the bulk of those suspected denied involvement, their credibility was dealt a blow when Pío García Escudero, the president of the Senate, admitted that he had received a bonus from the PP.
Rajoy desperately tried to avoid making a statement on the scandal, and repeatedly denied having taken illegal funds. However, the proof he presented was widely judged to be unconvincing and still left much to be desired. The PP tried to its best to make the scandal go away, but it made a comeback in July, with juicy admissions from Bárcenas that the PP had been financed illegally for the last 20 years and revelations by El Mundo that Rajoy was in contact with Bárcenas until March 2012 in the form of text messages privately lending support to Bárcenas (even after it was made public that Bárcenas had millions of euros stashed away in a Swiss bank account). Forced to respond, Rajoy again denied allegations and obviously refused to resign.
Major corruption cases such as the Caso Gürtel, the Caso Bárcenas and EREgate revealed a corrupt system, involving all governing parties (in Catalonia, the CiU has also been involved in scandals, with allegations that the current President of the Generalitat Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol, the former leader of the region, both have secret Swiss bank accounts), characterized by opaqueness in the awarding of contracts and toxic ties between politicians and businessmen. The responses of both parties to such cases have been quite terrible – denying all involvement or loudly denouncing a ‘conspiracy’ against them. For instance, in the Bárcenas scandal, Rajoy implicitly accused anyone who believed Bárcenas’ accounts of a lack of patriotism and threw his former party colleague under the bus, calling him an inveterate liar just months after he had offered him his private backing. It appears as if the public has become much less tolerant of political corruption since the economic crisis.
Since 2011, the issue of domestic Basque separatist terrorism and ETA has slowly faded away, but the final fate of ETA and particularly ETA prisoners in Spanish jails continues to be a highly contentious issue. Historically, the PP has tended to favour a very tough hard line against ETA, refusing any negotiations with the terrorist organization unless it disarms and repents. In good part, Rajoy’s government has continued on the same general line – refusing to extend a hand to ETA unless the organizations dissolves itself, to the chagrin of many Basque nationalists – including the moderate and anti-violence Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has always had an ambiguous and conflicted attitude towards ETA. However, Rajoy’s government has shied away from being overly hawkish, leaving many of its most conservative anti-ETA supporters quite disappointed. In 2012, the PP and PSOE defeated a UPyD motion to ban Amaiur, the abertzale coalition in the Cortes Generales which is seen by many opponents of ETA as the latest political front for the terrorist movement. In doing so, the PP began viewing the issue of ETA as being both military and political, which it had not done in the past. The government has supported a strategy of conditional ‘individual reinsertion’ of ETA prisioners, which is opposed by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), an association for victims of terrorism and staunch opponents of any negotiations with ETA. Nevertheless, the government publicly manifested its disapproval after the Constitutional Tribunal lifted the ban on Sortu in 2012, a political party banned in 2011 as it was seen as the latest incarnation of ETA and its illegal political wing Batasuna. Other members of the PP were even more acerbic in their reactions to the decision – Esperanza Aguirre, the then-president of the Community of Madrid, mulled abolishing the Constitutional Tribunal; ABC, a very conservative newspaper, proclaimed that the Tribunal surrendered to ETA supporters.
The prospects for negotiations between the government and ETA’s remnants are low. The government insists that ETA dissolves, disarms and apologize to their victims; ETA’s prisoners have renounced violence and embraced democratic ways, but seeks amnesty, self-determination for Euskadi and does not want a ‘one-sided’ apology which they insist ignores the victims of state repression, the Spanish government’s ‘dirty war’ against ETA in the 1980s and the fate of ‘political prisoners’ (like Arnaldo Otegi, the former spokesperson of Batasuna and current secretary-general of Sortu, who remains imprisoned).
Politically, the abertzale left, which has unambiguously rejected any kind of violence – including that of ETA – and seeks a democratic path to a ‘socialist, independent Euskal Herria’, has met unprecedented success at the polls since 2011, united under the electoral coalition Euskal Herria Bildu (EH Bildu). EH Bildu includes Sortu, the old left-wing/anti-violence Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) founded in 1986 by PNV dissidents, the left-wing/anti-violence Aralar founded in 2001 by Herri Batasuna members who opposed ETA’s violence and intransigence, and Alterniba (a splinter from what was then the local Basque section of IU, EB-B). In the 2012 Basque regional elections, EH Bildu won 25% and 21 seats – placing a very strong second behind the old PNV, which won 34.6% and regained control of the Basque autonomous government (which it had lost, for the first time since its creation in 1980, to the Socialists allied with the PP in 2009). Successive local, provincial, national and regional elections since 2011 have confirmed that the abertzale left, at unprecedented levels of support, has established itself as the second largest party in the Basque autonomous community after the PNV but ahead of both the local Socialists (PSE-EE) and PP.
Unquestionably, however, the most pronounced challenge to the Spanish state has come from Catalonia and a spectacular upsurge in a more explicitly separatist and assertive brand of Catalan nationalism. This represents a sea change in Spain’s peripheral nationalisms – historically, Catalan nationalism was seen as the most moderate and pragmatic (seny catalá) while Basque nationalism was more radical, violent and polarizing. In the historical tradition of the nationalist Catalan bourgeoisie, Jordi Pujol’s Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist alliance – which controlled the Generalitat (the autonomous government) between 1980 and 2003 – was deliberately ambiguous about the question of independence/sovereignty for Catalonia and instead always sought more devolution and powers for Catalonia, applied a stringent linguistic policy to promote Catalan over Spanish in public and cultural life, used sabre-rattling nationalist rhetoric (Espanya ens roba – ‘Spain robs Catalonia’). This differentiated the CiU from the old Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which has always explicitly supported the independence of the greater Països Catalans (Catalan-speaking territories including the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands and Northern Catalonia in France).
Catalan nationalism received its first boost in June 2010, with the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal on the new Statute of Autonomy adopted by the Catalan government (made up of the Socialists, ERC and radical left/eco-socialist ICV-EUiA) in 2006. The PP had appeal the new Statute after its approval by the Spanish Congress and in a Catalan referendum; the PP took issue with the definition of Catalonia as a ‘nation’, the preferential status for the Catalan language, the further devolution of powers and the ‘bilateral principle’ (bilateral talks between Madrid and the Generalitat, excluding other regions) among other contentious clauses. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the declaration of Catalonia as a nation lacked legal standing, struck down 14 articles as unconstitutional (notably the decentralization of justice) and 27 were upheld. Although the ruling did not mark a loss of autonomy, the Catalan reaction was livid – it was widely seen as the decision of a partisan, ‘Spanish’ court which was the final straw on top of ‘anti-Catalan’ campaigns from the Spanish right. Shortly after the ruling, a large nationalist rally in Catalonia, Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim, supported by the governing parties and CiU rallied between 500k and 1.5 million people. However, the ruling was the final blow to the much-weakened PSC-led Tripartite government. In the November 2010 regional elections, the PSC was badly defeated by Artur Mas’ CiU, with 62 out of 135 seats. Mas’ CiU had campaigned on the Catalan people’s right to decide (derecho a decidir, or dret a decidir) and his landmark promise was a ‘fiscal pact’ with Madrid, which would allow Catalonia to raise and administer its own taxes – similar to the Concierto Económico held by Navarre and the Basque Country.
The economic crisis has reignited Catalan nationalism. The old issue of the ‘fiscal deficit’ – Catalonia’s old complaint that it pays more in taxes to the central government than it receives in investments, representing an estimated ‘loss’ of 6-9% of the regional GDP and often seen as ‘subsidizing’ poorer region – has returned to the forefront of political debate. Many nationalists feel that an independent state would offer relief from the Spanish recession. With the Generalitat struggling to reduce its deficit and the debt asphyxiating the region, Mas has been accused of opportunistically shifting towards nationalism to distract attention from his unpopular austerity policies and the region’s bad economic situation – arguing that the current financing of autonomous communities is unfair, and Catalonia would recover quickly if its taxes weren’t being used by Madrid to subsidize poorer regions. On September 11, 2012 – the Diada, Catalonia’s national day (commemorating the loss of Catalan autonomy with the 1714 defeat of the pro-Habsburg Catalan forces by the Spanish Bourbons during the Spanish War of Succession), the huge size of the nationalist rally (Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa) organized by the extra-parliamentary separatist Catalan National Assembly (ANC) took Mas by surprise – between 600,000 and 2 million participants turned out. After Mas failed to get Rajoy’s support for his ‘fiscal pact’ and using the nationalist momentum of the Diada, Mas called for early elections for November 2012. Mas announced that he would hold a referendum (even if he lacked legal backing) within the term of the next legislature on Catalonia’s institutional future, and the Catalan Parliament adopted (before its dissolution) a motion calling for a consultation on Catalonia’s future. Mas failed to win an absolute majority – the CiU even fell back, losing 12 seats; but the elections saw strong gains by the separatist ERC (21 seats, up 11 and second in seats ahead of the PSC) and the election of 3 members from the far-left separatist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). The elections, however, also showed a polarization of political opinions – the divided PSC, defending a vague and unappealing federalist ‘third way’, was crushed (an all-time low of 14.4% and 20 seats), while the staunchly anti-independence Catalan PP (19 seats, up 1) and Ciutadans (C’s, 9 seats, up 6) made gains.
In December 2012, Mas signed a deal with the ERC, in which the ERC supported Mas’ reelection as president in return for the ERC’s input on a referendum to be held as soon as possible. In January 2013, the Catalan Parliament approved a motion recognizing the Catalan people as ‘sovereign’ and holding the ‘right to decide’, with the votes of the CiU, ERC and the left-wing Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA) and the opposition of the PP, C’s and 15 deputies from the PSC. The Constitutional Tribunal struck down the motion in March 2014. After another highly successful nationalist show of force on the Diada in 2013 (an impressive human chain stretching the entire length of Catalonia), Mas announced in December 2013 that a referendum would be held on November 9, 2014 and that voters would answer two questions: “do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “in case of affirmative answer, do you want this state to be independent?” The two-question structure of the referendum was widely criticized, as were the very ambiguous questions set by the Generalitat – there is no straight up question on sovereignty (a word which Mas is still not keen towards) or separation, and the words ‘state’ and ‘independent’ can be rather ambiguous and twisted different ways. The ERC and CUP wanted a straight up yes/no question on independence, but the ICV-EUiA and the moderate junior party in the CiU (Josep Duran i Lleida’s conservative autonomist Democratic Union of Catalonia, UDC) opposed a straight choice. Nationalists insist that Catalonia would remain in the EU and Eurozone following independence, but most agree that, in the eventuality of Catalan independence, Catalonia would not automatically remain in the EU.
The Spanish government immediately announced that the vote would not take place. The PP, joined by the PSOE, UPyD and C’s, argues that the organization of such a referendum in unconstitutional. On this matter, the Constitution is quite clear: only the Spanish State has the authority to organize a referendum (Article 149.1) and national sovereignty resides in the Spanish people (Article 1.2). The PP denies the Generalitat’s claim that Article 150.2, which allows for the transfer or delegation of the State’s powers to autonomous communities, can be read as allowing for the State to authorize a referendum in Catalonia.
The referendum debate has succeeded in one thing, at least: deeply dividing the PSOE and PSC. The national PSOE has been less centralist than the PP, especially under Zapatero, but has strongly opposed any attempts to hold referendums on independence or declarations of a region’s ‘right to decide’; the PSC, on the other hand, has always been at the very least Catalanist (supportive of a Catalan national identity and extensive self-government) and a significant minority within the PSC has openly supported the ‘right to decide’, the organization of a referendum and even supporting full independence. The PSC’s hapless leader, Pere Navarro, has defended a quite vague and unappealing idea of a federalist ‘third way’ and opposed the organization of a referendum. In January 2014, 3 PSC deputies in the Catalan Parliament voted in favour of the Generalitat’s petition to organize a referendum, disobeying the party line; the PSC deputies in the Congress disobeyed the PSOE’s party line in February 2013 by supporting a CiU-ERC-ICV resolution calling on the government to negotiate with the Generalitat on the organization of a referendum. Some members of the PSOE, notably veteran Socialist leader Alfonso Guerra (the Vice President of the government between 1982 and 1991 under Felipe Gonzáles), openly supported breaking ties with the PSC and founding a clearly anti-independence section of the PSOE in the region. In July 2013, to paper over the cracks, the PSOE adopted the Declaration of Granada, supporting federalism with clearly defined responsibilities, a federalist reform of the Senate and a reform of the financing of the regions. However, federalism has failed to convince many people, and the divisions remain – the PSOE is unwilling to loudly proclaim its federalist conversion by fear of alienating more centralist types in its base and membership, while the PSC supports federalism but some are tempted to go even further. In October 2013, the PSOE voted in favour of a UPyD motion proclaiming that ‘the right to decide resides with all Spaniards’, rendering the PSC (which abstained) even more uncomfortable and kind of casting doubts on what the PSOE’s federalism really means.
The government created another firestorm with justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s changes to the abortion law. In 2010, Zapatero’s Socialist government, as part of its series of socially liberal reforms which alienated the PP and the Catholic Church, removed all restrictions on abortion (which was legal in cases of danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, rape and fetal malformations or defects since 1985), legalizing it on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and allowing minors 16-18 to have an abortion without requiring parental consent. In 2011, the PP’s platform promised to amend the abortion law and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón reiterated the new government’s commitment towards changing the law. In December 2013, the government announced its draft law – abortion would be illegal except in cases of rape and ‘serious risk to the physical or mental health’ of the mother (malformation of the fetus by itself would not be grounds for an abortion, unless the mother proves that it has a serious impact on her mental health), two doctors (who would not perform the abortion or work for the clinic where it is performed) would judge if these conditions exist, minors will require parental consent and only doctors would be punished for the ‘crime’. The government claimed that its law defends the rights of the unborn and protects mothers, but the new law – which has yet to be passed by Congress – is widely unpopular. Many criticize the PP for starting a useless ‘culture war’ only to satisfy its restless and critical hard-right base (which is less than enamored with most of Rajoy’s policies), and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s popularity has dwindled, making him the second least popular minister, after Wert. The abortion law came alongside a new public safety law from interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz which would give the police to fine ‘offenses or insults to Spain’ or dissolves unauthorized rallies in front of the Parliament buildings.
There have been regional elections in five regions since 2011 – Andalucia, Asturias (both in March 2012, both resulted in PSOE governments), Galicia and Euskadi (in late 2012, the reelection of the PP majority in Galicia and the PNV’s return in Euskadi) and Catalonia (see above); these EP elections are the first national elections since the 2011 general election, and it kicks off a series of high-stakes elections in 2015 – regional and municipal elections around May, followed by a general election before December 2015. Parties are clearly gearing up for the 2015 elections, which are likely to be the most open-ended, unpredictable and exciting elections in modern Spain. Dealing with a recession, one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, a terrible deficit, the unpopularity of its austerity policies, controversial legislation, a ‘separatist threat’ in Catalonia, corruption all around and corruption within the government itself, the PP has seen its support fall significantly since 2011. From an all-time high of 45%, the PP’s support fell to about 29-32% in the polls, which would be the PP’s lowest level since the early 1990s (around the time when the old AP shifted away from Manuel Fraga’s toxic past association with Franco, and José María Aznar’s successful construction of a big tent party after 1990).
In opposition, the PSOE has continued to struggle after its all-time low result in 2011. The PSOE’s leader (at the time of the EP elections), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, has been a very unpopular opposition leader who has struggled to find a voice for the PSOE in opposition and define a new path for the PSOE after the Zapatero era (which is, fairly or unfairly, widely judged to have been a trainwreck by voters). Rubalcaba’s support in the PSOE has also been less than unanimous: Rubalcaba was elected leader of the PSOE at the party’s XXXVIII Congress in February 2012, with 487 delegates against 465 delegates for Carme Chacón, a popular defense minister under Zapatero and a Catalan Socialist. Rubalcaba was supported by the bulk of the PSOE’s old guard – former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzáles, the old regional barons José Bono (Castilla-La Mancha), Manuel Chaves (Andalusia), Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra (Extremadura); Chacón, the outsider, was supported by the likes of Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Josep Borrell, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Tómas Gómez and Susana Díaz (who became leader of the Andalusian PSOE and president of Andalusia in September 2013). Rubalcaba has generally moved the party towards the left, opposing the PP’s austerity policies (but many remember that Zapatero was the one who began austerity, and many compare the government’s austerity policies to those of the PSOE), supporting bank and wealth taxes, less power for the Catholic Church and – as aforementioned – a fairly vague ‘federalism’. In polls, the PSOE was at or below its 2011 result – 25 to 28%, which meant that the PP remained ahead of the PSOE in all but a handful of polls (although the gap closed significantly in early 2014).
The IU and UPyD, nationally, have achieved strong polling numbers since 2011 – the IU’s support peaked at nearly 15% before coming down a bit to 10-12% in early 2014; UPyD increased to about 7-11%.
The PP leadership appointed Miguel Arias Cañete, Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (until his resignation on April 28 to run in the EP election) as the PP’s top candidate. Arias Cañete, one of the most popular members of the government (although still in the red), was fairly uncontroversial in his job and has EU experience in dealing with the Common Agricultural Policy. Ramón Luis Valcárcel, the PP president of Murcia from 1995 to 2014, was sixth on the PP’s list. The PSOE leadership appointed Elena Valenciano, the deputy leader of the PSOE and a Rubalcaba ally, who served in the EP from 1999 to 2008, as top candidate. Ramón Jáuregi, a Basque Socialist politician and Minister of the Presidency (2010-2011) was second; Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the top candidate in 2009 and former Minister of Justice (2004-2007), was fourth.
La Izquierda Plural (The Plural Left) was the coalition spearheaded by the IU, led by two-term PCE/IU MEP Willy Meyer. The IU is the old coalition of the Spanish radical left, in which the Communist Party (PCE) has always been the largest although not necessarily dominant component. Since 2008, under the leadership of Cayo Lara, the PCE has regained the upper hand in the IU, after the eight-year leadership of Gaspar Llamazares, who was more independent of the PCE. Under Cayo Lara, the IU has further distanced itself from the PSOE (Llamazares had less confrontational relations with the Socialists) and proclaimed the IU as anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal.
In Catalonia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) and the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), with the ICV’s Ernest Urtasun as the third candidate on the national list. ICV, the largest of the two, grew out of the old Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) in the 1980s and transformed into an ecosocialist centralized party – more independent of the national IU – in the mid-1990s. EUiA, which has been ICV’s perennial electoral ally since 2003, was founded in 1998 by traditionalist communists (notably the anti-Eurocommunist PCC and a faction of the old PSUC hostile to the green shift of the ICV) and it is the official Catalan wing of IU. The ICV-EUiA supports Catalan self-determination, but the ICV is split between federalists and separatists. In Galicia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the new alliance of the local United Left (EU) and Anova-Irmandade Nacionalista. Anova is an alliance of Galician regionalist/nationalist left-wing parties born from factions which split from the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) after Xosé Manuel Beiras – a leading figure of Galician nationalism and former leader of the BNG – lost an internal election to the dominant Union of the Galician People (UPG) in 2012. Led by Beiras, the EU-Anova alliance (Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, AGE) in the October 2012 regional elections in Galicia did very well, winning 14% and 9 seats – third ahead of the BNG, a result made more impressive if one considers the weakness of the communist movement in the conservative region. In Euskadi, the local branch of IU (Ezker Anitza, after a nasty split in 2012) was allied with Iratzarri, a small splinter of Aralar; in Navarre, IU was allied with Batzarre, a far-left nationalist party whose roots can be traced to the two major obrerista splinters from ETA during Franco’s regime (ETA Berri in 1966 and ETA-VI in 1970). La Izquierda Plural, finally, also included some members from tiny green parties.
UPyD’s list was led by its sole incumbent MEP, Francisco Sosa Wagner. The centrist liberal UPyD is strongly pro-European, arguing in favour of deeper European integration (it proposes a common immigration policy, banking union, abolishing the inter-governmental European Council to promote EU supranationalism, integrated European defense etc) and warning of the dangers of nationalism. In Spain, UPyD is a fierce opponent of peripheral nationalists – it supports reducing the powers of the autonomous communities, clearly setting out the powers of all levels of government, abolishing the foral rights (conciertos) of Euskadi and Navarre and creating a symmetric, centralized federal state. However, because of its stances, UPyD has been described by critics as centralist and Spanish nationalist. The party has common ground with the PP on issues such as terrorism, centralism and even some structural reforms in the economy but the UPyD’s secularism, mild social liberalism and more centrist economic policies are off-putting to many populares. The party’s reputation is mixed, many accusing it of populism and personalism behind UPyD’s founding leader, former PSOE MEP Rosa Díez.
UPyD is nearly indistinguishable from the Ciudadanos-Ciutadans (C’s), with the exception that the C’s have tended to be a regional party in Catalonia with little presence outside the region, although that is changing. The C’s, like UPyD, are anti-(peripheral) nationalist and support greater centralization, and has also taken strong stances in favour of equal bilingualism between Spanish and Catalan (the Generalitat has tended to heavily promote and favour Catalan). A minor force in Catalan politics until 2010, the party benefited from the polarization of opinion around the issue of independence to gain 6 seats in the 2012 regional elections, winning a record 9 seats. It has provided C’s with an impetus to expand outside of Catalonia and consolidate its new strength in Catalonia. Compared to UPyD, C’s is a bit Eurosceptic and left-leaning – in 2012, C’s took rather populist and left-wing positions on socioeconomic issues; but the main difference remains one of personalities – C’s leader, Albert Rivera, doesn’t get along with Rosa Díez.
The moderate peripheral regionalist and nationalist parties – led by the CiU and the PNV – formed the Coalición por Europa, the same name as a similar alliance for the 2009 EP elections. The coalition included the CiU – more accurately, its two component parties, Artur Mas’ larger nationalist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the autonomist conservative Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC), with the former in the ALDE and the latter in the EPP and the PNV, which is with the CDC in ALDE. The coalition was joined, like in 2009, by the Canarian Coalition (CC) – a makeshift coalition of various insular parties (Canarian politics are extremely insular) which is the governing party in the Canaries since 1993 which, unlike the PNV or CiU, is not as much a nationalist party (although it defines itself as one) as an autonomist and Canarian regionalist party seeking various concessions from the central government. In Galicia, the coalition was joined by Compromise for Galicia (CxG), a small centre-left nationalist party (1% in the 2012 regionals) founded by another faction of BNG dissidents in 2012 (from the Máis Galiza faction of the BNG) and small nationalist parties (the liberal PNG-PG, notably). In Catalonia, the Reagrupment – a small separatist movement – joined the coalition, after moving towards the CDC in 2013. Incumbent MEP Ramon Tremosa (CDC) was the lead candidate, followed by Izaskun Bilbao MEP (PNV) and Francesc Gambús (UDC).
The ERC allied with two small Catalan nationalist parties (Catalunya Sí and Nova Esquerra Catalana – a party led by Ernest Maragall, the brother of former PSC President of the Generalitat Pasqual Maragall) to form L’Esquerra pel Dret a Decidir (EPDD, ‘The Left for the Right to Decide’), running on a strongly nationalist platform endorsing Catalan independence within the EU. The ERC had previously mulled an historic broad nationalist front with the CiU or an alliance with the Basque EH Bildu.
EH Bildu formed a coalition with the Galician BNG (weakened by splits, and led by the communist UPG), a small Canarian separatist party (ANC), the Asturian nationalists, the Aragonese nationalist Puyalón and another small party; the list, led by EH Bildu’s Josu Juaristi, was called Los Pueblos Deciden (The Peoples Decide, LPD). Interestingly, EH Bildu-LPD’s platform was not as separatist as anti-neoliberal and left-wing, with much of it devoted to a left-wing critique of neoliberalism and the economic crisis rather than nationalist calls for self-determination (although they were in there).
Primavera Europea (PE, European Spring) was a coalition spearheaded by the left-wing/green Valencian regionalist Coalició Compromís, a young (2010) alliance of various Valencian nationalist (BLOC) and regional left-wing or green parties. Compromís, which has adopted the ‘third way’ between the warring theoretical schools of Valencian nationalism (Joan Fuster’s pan-Catalanism and the anti-Catalan blaverismo), has been quite successful electorally – 7% and 6 seats in the 2011 regional election, the election of one deputy to Madrid in 2011. It allied, as in November 2011, with EQUO – Spain’s new, but rather unsuccessful, green party; the Chunta Aragonesista (CHA), Aragon’s main left-wing nationalist party; and other small parties.
In January 2014, several academics and civil society actors founded Podemos (‘we can’), a left-wing, anti-establishment movement which would oppose Madrid and the EU’s austerity policies and seek to build on the Spanish indignados movements. Podemos’ list was led by Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year old polisci professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and a regular guest on TV shows; Iglesias’ face was the logo chosen by Podemos to identify itself on ballot papers, a decision which Podemos justified by Iglesias’ greater notoriety and name (face?) recognition. Pablo Iglesias, who was named after the founder of the PSOE and the UGT Pablo Iglesias (1850-1925), was a member of the PCE’s youth wing between the ages of 14 and 21.
Podemos’ platform focuses on six overarching themes: economic recovery, ‘conquering liberty, fraternity and equality’, redefining sovereignty and recovering the land. On economic issues, Podemos supports job creation through public policies and public investments (it opposes the PP’s labour and pension reforms, and calls for a 35-hour workweek and a retirement age at 60, a higher minimum wage and a new maximum wage; it would promote SMEs), an audit of the debt, democratization of the ECB (which would be focused on creation of ‘decent jobs’ and the public financing of member-states by directly buying public debt on the markets), reorienting the financial system to consolidate ‘ethical and cooperative’ banks, public ownership in strategic sectors (communications, energy, food, transport, health, education, pharmaceuticals), subjecting all privatizations to a referendum, cracking down on tax evasion and tax fraud by multinationals, wealth taxes and a minimum basic income.
On the theme of ‘conquering liberty’, Podemos advocates for tougher anti-corruption measures, greater use of legislative initiative referendums and direct democracy, electoral reform, participative budgeting, control of lobbyists, campaign finance regulations, anti-monopoly measures in communications, the defense of basic freedoms (freedom of speech, assembly, association etc), abolishing ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation which restricts civil liberties and LGBTI rights. On the issue of ‘conquering equality’, Podemos supports defending social and cultural rights, defending public services, gender equality in the workplace, a right to free universal healthcare throughout the EU, a right to free public and secular education including university, a right to decent housing (a moratorium on mortgage debts for low-income families, freezing evictions, legalization of squatting in unoccupied places), defending sexual and reproductive rights and a right of free and secure access to information. By ‘conquering fraternity’, Podemos argues in favour of increasing citizen participation, pro-immigration policies, increasing immigrants’ rights, self-determination (right to decide) and a foreign policy based on international development and peace. Podemos supports abrogating the Treaty of Lisbon, abandoning TAFTA, renegotiating free-trade agreements, mandatory popular ratification of all constitutional amendments and various political reforms (transparency, term limits, possibility for recall, less generous benefits and salaries for politicians). Finally, Podemos endorses a new sustainable development policy for the EU, a right to access water, food security, reducing GHG emissions by 55% by 2030, green energies (45% of energy must be from renewable sources by 2030) and rural development. Similar to Italy’s Beppe Grillo, although with much less radical and inflammatory rhetoric, Podemos presents itself as a new party ‘close to citizens’ and not professionals politicians. Several media reports have noted the importance of social media to Podemos.
Podemos’ list was supported by several small parties, the most notable of which was the far-left Trotskyist Anticapitalist Left (Izquierda Anticapitalista), a small movement which was a part of IU from 1995 to 2007.
The PP faced a challenge to its right from a splinter party founded in 2013, Vox. The party was founded by some right-wing rebels in the PP. The party’s right has been uneasy or on bad terms with Rajoy since 2008, when the right unsuccessfully tried to remove him as leader following the PP’s defeat in 2008. Since taking power, some members of the PP’s right have decried Rajoy as a ‘sellout’, a ‘pansy’ and even a ‘social democrat’ – they dislike his tax increases, his handling of Catalonia and his less confrontational stance with terrorism. Vox seeks to return to the PP’s roots – neoliberalism/Thatcherism, visceral opposition to peripheral nationalism and strong support for ‘national unity’. The party’s leader and most prominent figure is Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a three-term MEP and leader of the Catalan PP from 1991 to 1996. A leading opponent of Catalan nationalism and Jordi Pujol’s CiU governments in the 1990s – comparing its linguistic policies to apartheid – and recently called on the Guardia Civil to intervene if Mas’ government continued its ‘rebellion’. Vox was also joined by Santiago Abascal, a former Basque regional deputy (2004-2009) close to former Basque PP leader María San Gil; and José Antonio Ortega Lara, a ETA hostage for 532 days in the 1990s. Other members of the PP’s right, somewhat estranged from the leadership, such as Esperanza Aguirre (who resigned as president of the Community of Madrid in 2012) and Jaime Mayor Oreja (the PP’s top candidate in the 2009 EP elections who declined to run for reelection) have not joined the new party.
The major losers of the election were Spain’s two major parties – the PP and PSOE – who lost over 15% of the vote each from the 2009 EP election. Together, the two parties won just 49.1% of the vote compared to 73.3% in 2011, 80.9% in 2009 (EP) and 83.7% in 2008. It is the first time in the history of modern Spanish democracy that the two largest parties (the PP/AP and PSOE since 1982, the PSOE and UCD from 1977 to 1982) in the country have not won over 50% of the vote. Falling even lower than its disastrous 2011 result (28.7%), the PSOE’s puny 23% sets another record as the PSOE’s lowest result in any national election. The PP’s result – 26.1% – is down 18.5% from 2011 and it is the PP’s lowest result in any national election since the 1991 municipal elections (25.3%). El País summarized the elections with the headline pierde el bipartidismo (the two-party system loses) – as far as summaries go, it’s a very good one given that the election has confirmed what polls have said since about 2012 – Spain’s two-party system (at a national level, mind you) which has endured since the Transition is at its lowest ebb, with both the right and left feeling pressure from new parties, peripheral nationalists and parties to their left.
The PP can take some solace (and it has) in that it placed first – a Pyrrhic victory, but the PP has said that a victory is a victory and it has expressed much satisfaction (publicly) with its result. As far as it’s concerned, the PP managed to place first and beat the PSOE – which remains its only serious rival for government – in a midterm election despite unpopular austerity policies, recortes (cuts) and a difficult economic situation. The PP hopes that the nascent recovery will help it improve its poll standings, although it is another question whether most voters are actually feeling a recovery and if they’re willing to re-embrace the PP after everything. The other good news for the PP is that, despite its major loses, it still faces no major challenge on its right flank – Vox won only 1.6%. If anything, polls indicate that the PP’s loses have come from more centrist voters, while it has held on to more conservative supporters.
Never mind that its first place showing owes more to the division of its opponents in general and the left in particular, and never mind that the PP’s results hide some very preoccupying (negative) trends and indications – the PP would like to think that its ‘victory’ of sorts in the EP election shores up Rajoy and is good omen for 2015. The PP likely seeks to distract attention from its very severe loses, which saw its raw vote fall from 6.670 million in 2009/10.866 million in 2011 to only 4.098 million votes in 2014. The PP’s results are only decent when compared to those of the PSOE.
If there can be only one loser of these elections, it is undeniably the PSOE. The Socialists suffered an historic defeat – just 23% and 3.6 million votes in the whole of Spain – and this despite being the leading opposition party during an economic crisis (oftentimes, regardless of the actual competence or strength of the main opposition party, it is in a good position to be the main beneficiary of a government’s unpopularity in a midterm vote – ask the Portuguese PS right now). The PSOE has been unable to make a clean break with Zapatero’s toxic legacy (Rubalcaba hasn’t helped matters), and many voters still blame Zapatero and the PSOE for Spain’s economic mess. Despite shifting to the left since 2011, the PSOE still lacks credibility and legitimacy to many voters, and its leftwards shift has mainly come off as opportunism and insincere (many remember Zapatero’s own austerity policies). Additionally, the PSOE has been badly divided since 2011, and the issue of Catalonia’s derecho a decidir and the territorial organization of Spain has been a huge headache for the PSOE.
Following the EP election, PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba announced his immediate resignation as secretary-general and that he would not be a candidate in the presidential (prime ministerial) primaries planned for November 2014. His leadership had clearly become unsustainable and un-salvageable following the EP thumping. An extraordinary congress to elect his successor was held on July 13. Pedro Sánchez, a 42-year old deputy (2009-2011, and since January 2013) who worked with José Blanco (one of Zapatero’s allies) in the centrist wing of the party, was elected with 48.7% against 36.3% for Eduardo Madina (who is 38), a Basque Socialist who has led the PSOE group in Congress since 2009. José Antonio Pérez Tapias, from the party’s most leftist faction, took 15.1%. Pedro Sánchez, who has promised to build the grassroots and transform the PSOE into the party of ‘change’ for 2015, had strong support in all federations – even in Euskadi – but crucial to his victory was his above-average support in Andalusia, the powerhouse in PSOE politics, where Sánchez was supported by Susana Díaz, the regional president who is becoming one of the new major barons in the PSOE. Sánchez, an economist, was a fairly obscure backbencher until not so long ago; one of his first decisions was to instruct PSOE MEPs not to vote for Jean-Claude Juncker’s confirmation. So far, polls have not indicated much of a ‘leadership boost’ for the PSOE after Sánchez’s victory. The PSOE’s next major event will be the presidential primary in November 2014, where it is possible that Carme Chacón will return from her political hiatus (teaching in Miami), although her position has been rendered more fragile with the Catalan situation and the PSC’s decrepit state.
Both the PP and PSOE were significantly overestimated in the polls – according to the last polls, the PP stood at about 31-34% while the PSOE was between 26% and 30%. Both parties’ poor performance on election day was the first major surprise.
The PP and PSOE lost many – if not most – of its 2011 support to abstention, with over half of Spanish voters not showing up to vote. But, with turnout nationally down only 1% from 2009, the PP and PSOE both lost support to other parties, who were, taken as a whole, the main winners of the election.
The major winner was Podemos, which won a remarkable 8% and 5 MEPs. Podemos’ success was quite unexpected – although some late polls had given it up to 1 (even 2) MEPs and about 2-3% of the vote – because few people believed that it would manage to do all that well. Podemos achieved its result despite few financial resources, and a campaign largely built on social media appeal, word of mouth and Pablo Iglesias’ personal notoriety. The new party has been said to have taken a good chunk of the Socialist vote, but Podemos’ success is also cause for concern for IU – without Podemos, many of its supporters would likely have supported IU.
Podemos appeals because it presents a fresh, left-wing and anti-establishment image, and there is definitely a market for Podemos’ anti-politician, anti-system creed. The PSOE is discredited and lacks legitimacy, still licking its wounds from 2011 and trying to figure out where to go from there. IU has gained support thanks to the PSOE’s sad state and the loss of left-wing voters who had supported the PSOE in the first decade of the 21st century, but IU has problems of its own – it is a fairly bureaucratic traditional party itself, it is quite divided internally and its lacks a charismatic or popular leader with Alexis Tsipras (or Pablo Iglesias)’ stature (Cayo Lara is not very popular). Podemos represents a real threat to the PSOE, because it potentially has what it takes to seriously challenge the PSOE’s ‘leadership’ of the broader Spanish left. Podemos is bad news for both IU and UPyD, because it steals both of these parties’ anti-bipartidismo thunder. Its fourth place showing in the EP election already caused UPyD to fall into fifth place. This also frustrates IU and UPyD’s bids to establish themselves as kingmakers ahead of next year’s open-ended municipal, regional and general elections.
Polls taken since the EP election have shown that Podemos came out of the EP election with the most momentum and has become a ‘phenomenon’. It has surged into third place and double digits, ranging between 12% and 15% in most polls, sending the IU into fourth with only 6-8% and UPyD into fifth with 5-7%; the PSOE polls between 21% and 24%.
The most recent poll by CIS (July 2014), often considered as a gold standard in Spanish polling, had the PP leading the PSOE by 8.8% – 30% to 21.2%, with Podemos a strong third with 15.3%, followed by IU (8.2%) and UPyD (5.9%). In the ‘spontaneous’ answers, including undecideds/non-voters, the PP leads Podemos by 0.9% (12.8% to 11.9%), with the PSOE in third (10.6%). Over 80% of respondents still rate the economy as bad or very bad, a bit less than half think that the economy has neither improved nor worsened in the past year and only 25% think it will get better in the next year. Two-thirds of respondents rate the PP government as bad or very bad, and over 85% have little or no confidence in Rajoy.
Although because of the little ideological proximity it has with the PP, Podemos does not threaten the PP directly, but the PP has been leading the charge to kill it in the egg. Esperanza Aguirre has accused Iglesias of being a friend of castrismo, chavismo (one of Podemos’ main figures, fellow polisci prof Juan Carlos Monedero, is a chavista and in fact a former adviser to Chávez) and ETA and some in the PP have alleged that Podemos is financed by Venezuela (Podemos says it is financed through crowdfunding). Rosa Díez has said that she sees elements of SYRIZA, the Italian M5S and the FN in Podemos.
IU, with 10%, actually won its best result in any national election since 1996 (10.5%) and significantly improves on its catastrophic 2009 EP result (3.7%). IU’s gains in the 2011 election – it won 6.9%, up from 3.7% in 2008 – ended a near-constant decline which begun in 1994. UPyD won 6.5%, which is also the party’s best result in its short history, while C’s won 3.1% of the vote. However, the success of IU and UPyD was overshadowed by the Podemos phenomenon, and the surprising result of Podemos – and its implications for both IU and UPyD – tampered the optimism and enthusiasm of these two parties. With at least 1% of the vote in all regions except Euskadi, and at least 2% in 11 regions, C’s showed that they too have national appeal outside of their Catalan cradle.
Overall, the radical left – IU and Podemos – won about 18% of the vote, a record high result for parties to the radical left in Spanish history. Together, UPyD and C’s won 9.7%, also something of a record.
The regionalist and nationalist parties performed, in general, quite well. The biggest success, and one of the more remarkable result, came from Catalonia. In the turbulent region, turnout was up 9.3% from the 2009 EP election (when only 36.9% voted) and reached 46.2%. The increased turnout came as a result of higher nationalist mobilization to defend the planned November 9 referendum, after nationalist parties had called on voters to turn out in large numbers to bring European attention to the referendum and the Catalan issue. The victor was the ERC, with an historic result of 23.7% (9% in 2009) and its first victory in Catalonia since 1936 (during the Second Republic). CiU, with 21.8% – down from a mediocre result of 22.4% in 2009 – did poorly, although Mas tried to spin the issue away by emphasizing the convincing victory of nationalist parties – together, ERC and CiU won 45.5%, compared to only 31.6% in 2009; with the addition of ICV, the pro-referendum vote reaches no less than 55.8% (compared to 37.7% in 2009). In the 2012 regional election, the ERC-CiU-ICV referendum majority won a similar result (which goes up to 58% if the CUP, which didn’t run in the EP election, is included). The ERC won three provinces – Barcelona (21.9%), Tarragona (25.3%) and Gerona (32.9%) while the CiU narrowly won Lleida (31.8% vs. 29.7% for ERC). In the city of Barcelona itself, ERC won 21.8% against 20.9% for the CiU; third place went to ICV (12.6%) ahead of the PSC (12.2%). The main loser in Catalonia was the PSC, whose 14.3% is the lowest result in the PSC’s history (even lower than 2012) and is down massively from the 36% the Socialists took in the region in 2009.
On the anti-nationalist side, the PP did poorly as well (9.8%, its worst national result), losing about half of its support from 2009 (when it did well with 18%) but not as bad if compared with its 2012 result (13%). C’s failed to beat the PP or PSC, as some regional election polls have suggested it may do, but did quite well with 7% of the vote – down slightly from the 7.6% it won in 2012. UPyD won only 1.1% in the region. Podemos, with 4.7%, had one of its worst results in the country.
ERC did well in the Balearic Islands as well, taking 7.3% in the region, where it was supported (unofficially) by Més per Mallorca, a left-wing regionalist coalition on the island of Majorca. The PP won 27.5% against 22% for the Balearic PSOE.
In Euskadi, the results confirmed the new political dispensation which began in 2011. The PNV placed first, with 27.5%, an average result (for an EP election, the PNV does far better in regional elections) down about 1% from 2009 and tied with its 2011 general election showing. In second place, EH Bildu won 23.4%, at the lower end of what the abertzale left has been polling in Euskadi since 2011 (24% in 2011, 24.6% in 2012); but up from the 16% won by a comparable list supported by the illegal abertzale left in 2009 (the Iniciativa Internacionalista, 16% in Euskadi). At the provincial level, the PNV was only victory in Bizkaia, the heartland of moderate Christian democratic Basque nationalism, with a 12-point victory over EH Bildu (31.7% to 19.9%); EH Bildu won by 6.6% in Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist province and hotbed of the abertzale left forever (with 31.2% against 24.6% for the PNV) and took a narrow victory in Álava/Araba, with 18.9% to the PNV’s 17.2%, in the least nationalist and most ‘Spanish’ of the three provinces of Euskadi. In Navarra, EH Bildu was – by far – the dominant Basque nationalist party, with a strong second place and 20.1%, while the PNV won only 2.5% – the PNV has been a tiny rump in Navarra since the 1980s, after being badly hurt by the EA/PNV split in 1986 and the PNV’s participation in a pact with the Spanish and Navarrese right (both strongly opposed to Navarra’s unification with Euskadi). In Euskadi, both the PSE-EE and PP did poorly – with 13.8% and 10.2% respectively – down from 27.8% and 16% in 2009 and 18.9% and 11.6% in 2012.
The CDC and PNV suffered a significant group in the ALDE group, where they were unable to block the admission of UPyD’s 4 MEPs and C’s 2 MEPs to the group, despite the ALDE’s past statements in favour of the Catalan referendum. The CDC and PNV were the only ALDE members to oppose the two Spanish centralist parties’ admission to the group.
In Galicia, where the PP won 35.2% to the PSdeG’s 21.7%, the IP-Anova nationalist left did quite well (10.5%) and Podemos (8.3%) arrived ahead of the BNG (7.9%), which ran a weak and shoestring campaign. Allied with the CiU and PNV, the CxG won only 1%. In the Canaries, the CC placed a poor third with 12.2%, against 23.3% for the PP and 22.2% for the PSOE. Even in the CC stronghold of Santa Cruz de Tenerife province, the CC won only 14.8%. Podemos, with 11% of the vote in the Canaries, won one of its best results in the country. In Aragon, CHA, in the PE coalition, won only 4.5%. In Ceuta, PE won 9%, thanks to the support of Coalición Caballas, a left-wing party representing the city’s significant Arab-Muslim population.
The PP won the Valencian Community with a 7.5% margin, but the results in what has been one of the PP’s major strongholds since the mid-1990s were terrible. With 29.1%, the PP won its worst result in the Valencian Community since the 1991 regional elections (the last election in which the PP did not top the poll in the region). In the last regional election, the PP won yet another absolute majority with 49.4% (despite the Caso Gürtel) and it did even better (53.3%) a few months later in the general election. The EP results confirm what the polls in the region have been saying: the PP leads, but is down significantly from its pre-2011 levels; the Socialists have utterly failed to benefit, winning only 21.6% (an historic low), with the main winners being IU/EU (10.4%), UPyD (8.5%), Compromís (7.9%) and – this year – Podemos (8.2%). If replicated next spring in the regional elections, the PP would lose its absolute majority in the Corts, which it has held since 1999. While the Socialists would remain the leading opposition party, because of the division of its opponents, it could potentially form a coalition with EU, Compromís and potentially UPyD (and now Podemos?).
Another result which should be cause for panic is Madrid, which has been governed by the PP since 1995 and with an absolute majority since then (excluding the first, disputed, regional election in May 2003). In 2009, the PP won 48.6% and it won 51.7% in the 2011 regional elections. This year, the PP’s support collapsed to only 29.9% – although, because of the PSOE’s decrepitude, it still won the region by over 11%. The PSOE, with 18.9%, won its worst ever result. Significantly, Podemos placed third in the Community of Madrid, taking 11.3% against 10.6% for UPyD and 10.5% for IU. With 4.8%, C’s won their best result outside of Catalonia. Madrid was also Vox’s best region (with 3.6%), although it won 6% in the small North African city of Melilla, where Vox was endorsed by a local party of PP dissidents represented in the local assembly.
The PP also did badly in Murcia, one of the PP’s safest regions, but where the populares crumbled to 37.5% – they had won 61.5% in 2009 and 64.2% in November 2011. Although of less symbolic importance and national weight than the populares bastions of Madrid and Valencia, the numbers indicate that the PP could lose its absolute majority in the Regional Assembly in 2015 (it has governed the region with an absolute majority since 1995). It’s a similar story in other regions where the two-party system has historically been extremely dominant – in the conservative stronghold of Castile-León, where the PP and PSOE won about 90% of the vote in 2009, the PP’s support fell from 52% in 2009 to 37.6% in 2014, and combined with the PSOE (23.4%), won only 61% of the regional vote (with UPyD, IU and Podemos each winning about 8%). In Castila-La Mancha, where the two parties took 91% in 2009, they accounted for only two-thirds of the vote in 2014 – with 37.7% for the PP and 28.7% for the PSOE. In Cantabria, where the PP+PSOE won 90% in 2009, they won only 59% this year, split between the PP (34.7%) and the PSOE (24.3%). If replicated in regional elections, the PP’s absolute majorities in several regions would crumble down, leaving them all vulnerable to opposition coalitions.
One of the few bright spots from the PSOE came from the left-wing citadel of Andalusia, where the PSOE won by 9% against the PP – taking 35.1% (a poor result, but comparable to its 2011 and 2012 results) against only 25.9% for the PP, successfully warding off a PP offensive. With 11.6%, IU did well, although it would have done even better without Podemos coming into the picture (with 7%, tied with UPyD). The PSOE was the largest party in every Andalusian province except Almería, the conservative stronghold in the region. The PSOE even won over 40% in Jaén and Huelva provinces, and 37.2% in the Socialist powerhouse of Seville province. The PSOE only managed to be the largest party in two other regions, both of them traditionally left-leaning: Extremadura, which the PP gained from the PSOE for the first time ever in 2011, taking 38.7% to the PP’s 35.5%; and the northern region of Asturias, governed by the PSOE in a tenuous and unstable coalition since 2012, where the Socialists won 26.1% against 24.1% for the PP. With 13.7%, Asturias – an old communist stronghold – was also Podemos’ best region, and IU (12.9%) also won its best national result in the region (where it is in government with the PSOE).
The national and regional results all confirm El País‘ headline – pierde el bipartidismo. Història Electoral, the leading archive for Spanish election data, has projected the potential results of a general election if the EP results were to be replicated: the PP won win 139 seats (its worst result since 1989), the PSOE would fall again to only 105 seats (110 in 2011, already its worst result) while IU would win a record 25 seats, Podemos would send 19 deputies and UPyD 10. In Catalonia, the ERC would elect 15 members against 13 for the CiU (and the C’s would elect 4 deputies). From the Basque parties, EH Bildu would gain one seat (to win 8) while the PNV would gain 2 (to win 7). In Valencia, Compromís would increase its representation to 2 seats. The remaining seats would be split between CC (2) and Vox (1, in low-threshold Madrid). While the PP will likely perform better, and the PSOE may consolidate some of the left-wing vote as well (if it resists to Podemos), it looks very unlikely that either the PP or PSOE will win a majority or even a large enough minority to govern without a coalition or formal confidence-and-supply deal with small parties. Thus, the 2015 regional and general elections will be exceptionally interesting.
Turnout: 51.07% (+5.54%)
Seats: 20 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency, may cast a preference vote for a candidate)
S (S&D) 24.19% (-0.22%) winning 5 seats (-1)
Mp (G-EFA) 15.41% (+4.39%) winning 4 seats (+2)
M (EPP) 13.65% (-5.18%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Fp (ALDE) 9.91% (-3.67%) winning 2 seats (-1)
SD (EFDD) 9.67% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
C (ALDE) 6.49% (+1.01%) winning 1 seat (±0)
V (GUE/NGL) 6.3% (+0.65%) winning 1 seat (±0)
KD (EPP) 5.93% (+1.26%) winning 1 seat (±0)
F! (S&D) 5.49% (+3.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 2.23% (-4.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 0.73% (-3.0%) winning 0 seats (±0)
The Swedish EP elections came only a few months before general elections (local and county council elections are also held the same day) on September 14.
Since 2006, Sweden has been governed by a four-party centre-right coalition (formally known as the Alliance for Sweden, colloquially known as the ‘bourgeois bloc’) led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the senior governing party, the Moderates (M). In the past, Reinfeldt had been very much on the right, authoring a book highly critical of Sweden’s mythical cradle-to-grave welfare state and calling for neoliberal reforms in the 1990s; but following the Moderates’ disastrous performance on the back of a botched low-tax platform in 2002 (15.3% of the v0te), Reinfeldt won the party’s leadership and moved to reinvent the party. Under Reinfeldt, the Moderates, traditionally the most right-wing party in the country, moved to the centre and focused their policies on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state by encouraging employment through tax reforms. The Moderates have taken to calling themselves ‘the New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour and presenting themselves as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. In the 2006 election, Reinfeldt, who had formed a pre-election coalition with three other parties on the right – the Liberal People’s Party (Fp), the Centre Party (C) and the Christian Democrats (KD), defeated Prime Minister Göran Persson’s tired Social Democrats (S), who had governed Sweden since 1994.
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. 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. At the same time, the government tightened the criteria for unemployment benefits, trimmed the numbers on sickness benefits, increased employee contributions to unemployment funds and abolished tax credits for trade union or insurance fund membership – policies which were unpopular in the short term and caused a severe slump in the right’s poll ratings after taking office in 2006. The Alliance government, in its first term, also abolished a wealth tax and replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level.
Although Sweden is often depicted as a left-wing, socialist utopia because of its famously generous universal welfare regime, the ‘Swedish model’ has gone through a lot of changes in recent years – to the point where free-market reformists, such as The Economist, often look to Sweden as an example. 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. The top marginal tax rate, still very high by international standards, has been reduced significantly since the 1980s, corporate tax has been cut to 22% recently while wealth and inheritance taxes have been scrapped. The retirement age in Sweden is 67, which is high compared to many other EU member-states.
In 1992, school vouchers were introduced under a previous right-wing government (led by Carl Bildt, who has returned to politics as Reinfeldt’s foreign minister) 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. Much has been made of the centre-right government’s reforms to ‘make work pay’, and Sweden has been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. However, education remains a hot topic of debate in Sweden to this day. It is playing a major role in this year’s electoral campaign, after the last PISA schools ranking showed that Sweden has fallen quite a bit.
The ‘marketization’ of public services – such as education and healthcare – has also not been without controversy in Sweden. In 2013, there were several scandals about privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) aged care facilities which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins, opening a major political debate on profit in the welfare sector. The centre-right parties are generally favourable to for-profit activities by these private companies in the welfare sector, but the Social Democrats (S) resolved to significantly limit profit and allowing municipalities and counties to determine whether they want for-profit companies operating services and the Left Party (V) wants to ban profit in welfare altogether. Outside of V, however, few politicians left or right question the private sector’s role in providing some welfare/public services. Generally, voters still tend to side predominantly with the left when it comes to defending the welfare state.
In 2008-2009, the Alliance was badly hurt by the economic crisis which saw Sweden fall into a two-year recession (-0.6% and -5% growth in 2008-2009, and rising unemployment) but the government was saved by a spectacular economic recovery in 2010, which saw Sweden’s economy grow by 6.6% – the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Running on the creed of sound, responsible stewardship of the economy, the Reinfeldt government roared back in time for the 2010 election. The government was helped by the centre-left opposition’s sorry state. The Social Democrats, who have been the largest party in every general election since 1917 and have been one of Europe’s most successful parties (in the post-war era, the Social Democrats governed – often without coalition partners – from 1936 to 1976, 1982 to 1991 and from 1994 to 2006), had a tough time finding a leader after their 2006 defeat as many A-list candidates declined (notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström) and they settled on Mona Sahlin, who quickly lost popularity when she faced scrutiny. She built a formal alliance, the Red-Greens, with the Green Party (Mp) and the Left Party (V); the inclusion of V, which grew out of the old Communist Party and is still derided as communist by its opponents (although since 1990 it is a more modern and progressive radical left rather than paleo-communists – although former V leader Lars Ohly had a communist past and was widely depicted as a secret communist sympathizer), was controversial and scared centrist middle-class voters away from S. The opposition presented a botched alternative budget in early 2010, which proved to be its undoing. The centre-right took the lead, with S’ support collapsing and M surging. In 2010, S saved face by placing first, but with only 30.7% the party won its worst result since 1911, while the Moderates won 30.1% – the party’s best result since 1914.
The other major result of the 2010 election was the success of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), who won 5.7% of the vote and elected its first 20 MPs to the Riksdag. The SD’s success meant that, while the Alliance won more votes than the Red-Greens (49.3% against 43.6%), it lost its absolute majority in the Riksdag and was reduced to a minority government. Unlike the far-right/populist right in Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors – which emerged from anti-tax movements (Norway and Denmark) or agrarian protest (Finland), the SD – founded in 1988 – finds its roots in openly racist or neo-Nazi movements (although SD itself was never Nazi, it did have Nazi sympathizers in its ranks), but the SD moved away from the beyond-the-pale far-right towards the FN/FPÖ far-right in the mid-to-late 1990s, and SDs current leader, Jimmie Åkesson (since 2005) has continued to modernize the party to make it more respectable (for example, the old torch logo is now an innocuous-looking anemone hepatica flower). The party’s support increased to 3% in 2006 and they finally broke through in 2010, much later than most of the Scandinavian populist right. Sweden has a large foreign-born population, making up about 15 to 20% of Sweden’s entire population, and the past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns); Swedish immigration and asylum policies have been quite liberal. The integration of immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The Sweden Democrats are against multiculturalism, seeks to significantly reduce immigration and insists that immigrants should assimiliate fully with Swedish culture; the party is also socially conservative, anti-EU, anti-Euro and defines itself as democratic nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based). The SDs have seen their support increase to new highs since 2010, despite some controversies, but the party remains widely despised by a vast majority of Swedes who often describe it as racist and xenophobic. The SDs have tried to sanitize its image and make itself more respectable, but the media and other political parties remain very much against SD (although the parties can be more pragmatic if needs be); compared to Denmark’s DF and Norway’s Frp, the SD appear to be more radical and less respectable although it is tough to say if this is a result of their policies or the different national environments (both Danish and Norwegian political cultures have become far more accepting of their populist right). For example, despite being in a potential kingmaker situation, SD has been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies (like DF did with the Danish right) – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure.
After its 2010 defeat, the Social Democrats went through some very tough patches. Mona Sahlin resigned in March 2011, and after a convoluted and chaotic process, the party selected Håkan Juholt (mostly known for supposedly being S’ defense specialist) as her successor. Juholt turned out to be a dud who dragged down S’ numbers with his gaffes, before he was finally forced out in January 2012 with a scandal concerning an allowance he received from Parliament to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it. Under Juholt, S’ support in polls fell to as low as 22%. He was replaced by Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the largest trade union and an informal ally of the party. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.
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%). While the centre-right government’s reforms to the welfare state have been lavishly praised by some, they’ve come under lots of criticism from the centre-left in Sweden, which argues that the government has prioritized tax cuts over welfare and 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). The Social Democrats have made youth unemployment, education and limiting profit in welfare services their key priorities in the September 2014 campaign.
Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. The purchase of a Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for 89 billion SEK 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 C 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.
One problem for the Alliance is that, in 2010, the centre-right’s success came only as a result of M’s strong showing (+3.8% and 30.1%) while its three junior partners all lost votes: the Fp (7.1%, -0.5%), C (6.6%, -1.3%) and KD (5.6%, -1%). Although all four centre-right parties came from different traditions and histories, they have lost their distinctiveness in recent years and it has become increasingly tough to tell them apart except in the details: M has become more similar to the liberal Fp, C sells itself as a ‘green libertarian party’ to appeal to an elusive and small young urban clientele while KD is hardly ‘socially conservative’ and is just a standard conservative party nowadays; generally, they have largely become differentiated by their niche clientele and issues. The old Nordic agrarian Centre Party went through a tough patch recently with a botched attempt to transform itself into low-tax (quasi-Thatcherite), pro-immigration libertarian party (egged on by a youth wing often seen by outsiders as being hardcore libertarian), which led to significant infighting and terrible polling numbers. C’s leader Annie Lööf, once seen as a young rising star (at 31) has definitely not lived up to the hype (while she hasn’t been a disaster, her leadership has been pretty poor at best and she was hurt by the infighting and libertarian-shift).
EP elections in Sweden tend to see different results than general elections – generally with the major parties weaker in EP elections and minor parties quite a bit stronger. In 1995, as the leading anti-EU list in Sweden’s first elections after joining the EU, the Greens (Mp) won 17.2%; the Left Party (V) peaked at nearly 16% in 1999; in 2004, the Eurosceptic June List won 14.5% but collapsed to 3.5% in 2009; in 2009, the Pirates surged to win 7.1% but the party’s support petered out by the time the 2010 general elections rolled around. In contrast, both S and M have done poorly – S has never won over 30% in a EP election, while M won only 18% or so of the vote in 2004 and 2009.
The Social Democrats topped the poll this year, although with only 24.2% of the vote – a very mediocre result down 0.2% (but up about 125,000 votes) from 2009, when S had already done poorly with only 24.4%. While the Social Democrats will do better in September, and remain the favourites to win the election and lead the next government, the party’s support has been declining for a few months now – from pre-campaign heights of 33-34% to only 29-31% today. As the campaign heats up and voters scrutinize the parties more closely, a few are finding S’ pragmatic, inoffensive and generic platform to be a bit uninspiring. The party has bled support to the Greens and Feminists (F!), so its lost votes seem to be staying within the broader left-wing coalition rather than spilling over to the unpopular government. It is likely that S’ performance in September will be quite mediocre – hardly higher than its bad result in 2010 (30.7%) in any case.
The major losers of the election, however, were the Moderates. The government, which continues to trail the combined left by at least 10% if not more, is rather unpopular – the economic slowdown, concern with unemployment and the left’s renewed ability to find popular issues with the electorate haven’t helped, but what seems to be the general opinion in Sweden is that the government is out of steam, out of ideas and largely running on empty. Reinfeldt and Borg remain somewhat popular, but they have lost their advantage over the opposition’s leader (Löfven) and their personal appeal no longer suffices. The Moderates in particular have been out of steam, with the party’s electoral campaign – if one even exists – largely consisting of rehashing the government’s successes, vaguely promising to keep doing what has worked and little else. Their EP campaign was said to be terrible, and the end result was that M collapsed to 13.7% and third place (down about 5.2% from the last EP election) – an unexpectedly horrible result. While M will do better in September, it won’t do much better – the party, which resisted fairly well in polls for a long stretch, is collapsing with support down to 19-23%. The liberal Fp, who had won a strong 13.6% in 2009, failed to benefit from M’s collapse, as they too fell back to 9.9%.
The only silver lining for the Alliance is the strong performance from the Centre and Christian Democrats, two parties which were hovering dangerously close to (or even below) the 4% threshold for parliamentary representation, leading to fears that one or both of these parties may find themselves thrown out of the Riksdag in September. With their positive EP results – 6.5% and 5.9% and up from 2009 – their position in the Riksdag is looking far more secure. While it is too early for them to celebrate, polls have been showing C consistently above the threshold now and KD is also looking more likely than not to make it as well. Optimistic C and KD supporters joked that they might be the ones who’ll need to vote strategically to save M (M voters have sometimes tended to vote strategically for C or KD to allow them to pass the threshold). KD is pro-EU while C has traditionally been rather Eurosceptic – it still opposes the Euro and its platform was titled ‘a leaner yet sharper EU’.
There were three winners in this elections: the Greens (Mp), the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the Feminist Initiative (F!). The Greens surprised many by placing second, with 15.4% of the vote. Voters, from the left mostly but also (it would seem) from the right, rewarded the Greens for their clear focus, their realistic EU-focused campaign and the publicized work of Green MEP Isabella Lövin in changing the EU’s fisheries policies. Unlike many of its allies in Europe, the Swedish Greens are historically quite Eurosceptic and while they now support the EU, they remain EU-critical and opposed to European federalism and the adoption of the Euro (however, with the Eurozone crisis, Sweden has rallied massively behind the krona and the issue of the Euro has been dropped, including by its original advocates such as Fp and M).
The far-right SD did extremely well – a record high 9.7% and nearly 360,000 votes. The far-right is clearly on the rise in Sweden, although it still has a fairly low ceiling compared to similar parties in the rest of Scandinavia and Sweden is not really on the verge of living a ‘Danish/Norwegian scenario’ where the far-right is able to push the government towards adopting hardline immigration policies. Few politicians have been moving towards the SD on immigration issues – the centre-right parties and most of their activists remain strongly opposed to SD and retain pro-immigration positions (in 2002, Fp famously proposed language tests for immigrants, but Fp is back to being strongly pro-immigration), the centre-left remains broadly pro-immigration (although the former S mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu 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). The SDs likely benefited from several days of rioting in immigrant-heavy low-income suburbs in Stockholm back in May 2013, during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). SD’s two new MEPs have joined the EFDD group, along with Denmark’s DF. SD was sometimes cited as a member of Marine Le Pen’s EAF, although I believe that SD never officially joined her alliance and only SD’s youth wing was active in the EAF. Joining the EFDD instead of teaming up with Le Pen is likely an attempt by SD to further normalize and clean up its image.
The Feminist Initiative (F!), a party founded in 2005 by former V leader Gudrun Schyman (who was forced to resign V’s leadership in 2003 for a tax fraud offense and left V a year later) which won just over 2% of the vote in the 2009 EP election but less than 1% in the 2006 and 2010 elections despite the significant domestic and foreign attention the party attracted in 2006. F! is a left-wing/radical left feminist party – its general orientation on issues should be fairly obvious, opposing male dominance of politics, gender inequality, gender norms and heteronormativity. It has a detailed platform, but the main areas of focus for F! tend to be fighting discrimination, sexual liberation, reproductive rights/sexual health for women, LGBTQ rights, fighting the patriarchal economic structure, very strong support for liberal immigration and asylum laws and addressing violence against women. F! appears to be broadly pro-European although critical of the EU’s workings, with its European policy focused on increasing women’s rights across Europe, democratizing the EU and liberalizing asylum policies in the EU. F! calls itself feminist and anti-racist; its critic often describe it as living up to the stereotype of radical left-wing feminists held by right-wingers (in the past, F! proposed to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy). F! surged during the EP campaign, likely because of significant media attention on gender issues and a active campaign by Gudrun Schyman (who, however, did not run herself); F!’s virulently anti-SD rhetoric may also have helped pick up a few voters on the left who hate the SDs. F!’s new MEP is Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry. She has joined, somewhat surprisingly, the S&D group over the GUE/NGL.
The Pirates, the big sensation of 2009, collapsed to 2.2% and lost both their seats, as was widely expected. The Pirates’ short-lived success in 2009 was associated with events at the time (the Pirate Bay trial and the guilty verdict in the district court in April 2009, and other domestic events related to intelligence, privacy and copyright laws) and on the back of young protest voters – some of whom may now be voting SD. The party’s star faded quickly and in 2010 it won just 0.7%.
The results in September will certainly be more ‘normal’, but the centre-left opposition (Red-Greens, even if there is no formal alliance) are the favourites to win and are still leading the Alliance by at least 10% in all polls. Mp and V are both likely to increase on their 2010 results (7.3% and 5.6% respectively), all four Alliance parties will likely lose votes (M being the main victim, but with KD still not totally in the clear with the threshold) and SD will likely repeat its result from the EP election or even break 10%. The Alliance could, like in 2010, close the gap further – but, one month or so out, it seems too late for them to turn the ship around barring a surprise. F! is a wildcard – the EP result gave them momentum, and polls in June indicated that F! could win over 4%, but the latest numbers in July and early August suggest that F!’s momentum is already fading and they are unlikely to win over 4%. Certainly the Red-Greens would prefer that – a fourth left-wing party would only complicate things for them.
The main question remains whether or not, with SD doing so well, the Red-Greens will win an absolute majority. A S-Mp-V victory is likely, but it could very well end up only with a minority, with SD in a strong position between the two blocs and creating a chaotic situation. For the first time, it looks very unlikely that S will form a government alone – the most likely option is a S+Mp government, with V providing critical support from the outside (V may seek to join cabinet itself, but both S and Mp seem to be hostile to that idea – and V being outside serves S better). There is also a lot of speculation about the odds of one of the junior Alliance parties defecting – Fp is seen as the likeliest candidate (C has seemingly gone too far down the libertarian road), because Fp leader Jan Björklund has talked about cooperating with the centre-left on some issues. It is worth noting that C governs with S+Mp in Gävleborg County; Fp governs with S+Mp in Södermanland County; Mp governs with the Alliance in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland counties. However, nationally, after eight years in the Alliance, Fp (or C) would likely find it hard to jump over – and that might require change of leadership in the parties.
Finally, for the first time this year, the new Prime Minister will require a formal vote of confidence, replacing Sweden’s negative parliamentarianism, which allowed one to govern until a majority votes against the government. Therefore, Reinfeldt will not be able to hang on in the case that no alliance has a majority – unless, of course, he manages to get the Greens over to his side, but that is very unlikely in 2014.
The broad patterns of Swedish electoral geography were unchanged, the odd results of the election notwithstanding. The Social Democrats owned the north, with over 40% of the vote in Norrbotten County, 39.8% in Västernorrland County, 34.9% in Jämtland County and 32.8% in Västerbotten County. It also polled well in inland central Sweden – over 30% in Västmanland, Örebro and Värmland counties. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – meaning that most major industrial centres are outside the major cities (Stockholm never really was, and certainly isn’t today, an industrial city). Remote and sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old industrial region (mining, forestry, steel and iron works; nowadays the public sector is the main employer), making it a blue-collar and fairly poor region which has leaned heavily left (with the exception of the liberal tradition of the free churches, a pattern which has mostly died out anyhow).
Stockholm County is usually the right’s stronghold, but even there M failed to place first. The Greens won first place with 19.4% against 17.6% for M (its best result in the country) and 17.1% for S (its worst result in the country); in Stockholm itself, the Greens won 21.8% against 16.3% for M and 15.1% for S. With 10.5%, F! broke double-digits in the Swedish capital. M retained first place in the county’s most affluent suburban municipalities – Danderyd (36.5% M), Lidingö (30.2% M) and Täby (27.5%); but looking at the results in these places, and specifically the strong gains made by the Greens (as well as C and KD), we can presume that Mp gained some M (and Fp) voters from 2009, as did C and KD. Inside Stockholm itself, M remained ahead in the very affluent central Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan district and the affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen district; the Greens’ best result came from Södermalm-Enskede district (Södermalm is a gentrified central district and traditional Green stronghold), with 26.3% – with F! in second with 14.8%. The Social Democrats topped the poll in Yttre Västerort district, with 26.1% against 18% for the Greens; that outer district includes the low-income immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Spånga-Testa and Rinkeby (areas where S often wins over 50%, if not 60%, of the vote). Outside the city, S also topped the poll in Botkyrka (31% S) – the north of the municipality is a large immigrant-heavy area and in Södertälje (28.5%).
The Greens and Feminists did well in Uppsala County (18.4% and 6.8% respectively) – specifically in the university city of Uppsala (Greens largest party with 21.3%, F! at 8.4%), with the Greens and Feminists again doing well in the same kind of places (university residences/student districts especially – where Mp and F! were often first and second!).
The Sweden Democrats did best in Blekinge County (14%) and Scania/Skåne County (13.4%). Scania, at the southern end of Sweden, is one of the country’s most distinctive regions and tends to have a strong regional identity; it has undergone major demographic transformations in recent years, suffering from deindustrialization in parts while other more affluent parts are increasingly suburban and attracting cross-Øresund commuters/immigrants from Denmark. The SDs’ first successes at the polls, prior to 2010, came from Scania and it can be considered as SD’s main stronghold (Blekinge County, which borders Scania, is quite small). SD performs best in lower middle-class suburban areas (with low percentages of foreigners) and old industrial towns (which have swung hard against the left/S) – generally (and simplifying a lot), as in other Scandinavian countries, SD attracts young blue-collar males with low education who are frustrated about immigration, taxes and/or jobs. SD does poorly in highly-educated places – for instance, SD won only 6% in Lund (a major university town).
On a final, lighter note, the record of write-in votes in the election is quite hilarious: a handful of votes for the ‘Satanist Initiative’ (not sure if this is a parody of F!), a few for Jesus, a number of ‘out-of-the-EU’/’no to EU’/’EUSSR’/’fuck EU’ type protest ballots, a number of write-ins for the pan-European parties or EP groups (ALDE, Greens, G-EFA, PES, EPP), 2 for a ‘Hell’s Angels Freedom Party’… and 3 votes for UKIP!
This concludes my review of the May 2014 European Parliament elections – with much delay, unfortunately, but it’s done as it should be: each country analyzed separately in their own national context. I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis provided, and that you’ll forgive me for missing a number of elections along the way: I will try to cover a few of them in the next few weeks, without making promises! Enjoy the summer or winter!
Sweden held general and local elections on September 19 (last Sunday), which resulted in yet another indecisive election following the trend set a month ago by Australia and the United Kingdom in early May. In terms of overall results, the governing centre-right coalition has recorded a small swing towards it but the entrance of the far-right Sweden Democrats in Parliament has entailed that the government has lost its majority. It has also seen the worst result for Swedish social democracy since 1914.
S – Social Democrats 30.66% (-4.33%) winning 112 seats (-18)
M – Moderate Party 30.06% (+3.83%) winning 107 seats (+10)
MP – Green Party 7.34% (+2.09%) winning 25 seats (+6)
FP – Liberal People’s Party 7.06% (-0.48%) winning 24 seats (-4)
C – Centre Party 6.56% (-1.32%) winning 23 seats (-6)
SD – Sweden Democrats 5.70% (+2.77%) winning 20 seats (+20)
V – Left Party 5.60% (-0.24%) winning 19 seats (-3)
KD – Christian Democrats 5.60% (-0.99%) winning 19 seats (-5)
ÖVR – Others 1.43% (-1.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
turnout 84.63% (+2.64%)
Alliance 49.27% (+1.03) winning 173 seats (-5)
Red-Greens 43.60% (-2.48%) winning 156 seats (-15)
As expected, the government saw a swing to it, albeit a small one overall, a swing which was quasi-entirely to the profit of the Moderates, the leading party of the four-party Alliance. On the other hand, the Red-Greens did quite poorly, and, in the case of the Social Democrats, extremely poorly especially when placed in historical context. Finally, the far-right Sweden Democrats won their best result ever, which allowed them to enter Parliament and act, on paper at least, as kingmakers.
The results indicate that although the government doesn’t have the majority it needs to govern comfortably outright, it remains rather popular, and, for the Swedish right, extremely popular. The Moderate Party (and its conservative ancestors) have never won as high a percentage in an election since 1914, and this government is the first right-wing government which has managed to win re-election in decades (although there aren’t many examples of right-wing governments in Sweden since the 1930s). This reflects the popularity of the government, undoubtedly buoyed by the fact that Sweden is one of the best EU countries in terms of economic numbers right now and is experiencing rather important growth (one of the highest, if not the highest in the OECD) when few other European governments can say the same. Sweden’s budget could even boast a surplus next year, something few countries in Europe and the west as a whole can boast of right now (quite the contrary). The government’s numbers suffered a bit right when the markets crashed in the United States in 2008, but now, when people are asked who they prefer to be steering the economy, they give the right a pretty big advantage on that – as these elections have showed. In addition, the government’s popularity also has a lot to do with the competence of its amiable leader, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who has managed to keep the government together and avoid the four parties from falling out with each other and feuding amongst themselves as they had done in the 1970s and in the early 90s. The last right-wing government in Sweden, the 1991-1994 Carl Bildt cabinet, had been dogged not only by infighting but also an economic crisis which gave food to the idea that the Swedish right wrecked the economy and that the Social Democrats were the only competent managers (which isn’t entirely true). Arguably, the division of the right and the Social Democrat’s strong reputation as economic managers allowed them to stay strong in the late 90s and the first years of the 2000s, but that has since been hindered by the new united right invented by Reinfeldt and since then by the right’s strong economic management. The left, of course, has also hurt itself by having Mona Sahlin as its top leader, a rather incompetent one at that, and also by divisions between its three components, especially with the ex-communist Left. The success of the Greens within the left, which has propelled it to become the third largest party, should not be too surprising considering that the party’s leadership is rather competent and is a perfect party for loyal Red-Greens who are nonetheless not too keen on Mona Sahlin.
This isn’t the death of Swedish social democracy, however. Aside from the fact that these pronouncements are often quite stupid, an analysis of the results and of the Swedish right shows that Swedes haven’t become teabaggers or Thatcherites. Much emphasis must be put on the fact that a lot of the changes in Swedish politics since 2006 or so are caused more by the transformation of the right rather than the transformation of voters. Similarly to what David Cameron has done in the United Kingdom, the Swedish right has accepted the modern welfare model and has understood that any talk of abolishing it or radically altering it is not a vote-getting strategy. The right has just placed more emphasis on jobs and finances, introducing popular and rather successful tax policies to encourage work. It must also be noted, however, that in Sweden and other places, people are now less concerned with defending the welfare model than they are by jobs or immigrations. It was widely believed that the economic crisis would provide a quasi-universal boost for social democrats, on the other hand, it has provided no such noticeable effect and has instead bred an anti-incumbent in a lot of countries.
The other marking fact of this election, if not the marking fact itself, is the entry of the Swedish Democrats (SD) into Parliament. They have picked up on some growing distaste for immigration from traditionally low-income or old working-class white voters. This isn’t, however, the first far-right protest movement in Sweden. The last such movement, the ephemeral NyD (1991-1994) died out as soon as it won 24 seats in the 1991. Such trends allow us to think that there has been underlying anti-immigration sentiment in (southern) Sweden for at least a decade or so, though not necessarily one that entails a consistent far-right vote. SD’s transformation from a fringe neo-Nazi skinhead party to a slightly more educated and less barbarian party has undoubtedly played an important role in its success, past (2006) and present. Excluding Iceland, this now means that all Scandinavian countries (and Finland) have far-right representation in Parliament, though Sweden is nowhere near the levels of the Danish People’s Party. The Danish experience, where DF has practically steered the government’s immigration policy since 2001, has scared some observers into worrying that SD could take up DF’s role in Sweden.
The results leave the Alliance only two seats short of an overall majority, something which would, only on paper though, make SD the kingmakers. There seems to be consensus between the two coalitions to isolate SD and to ensure that it does not gain important leverage in Parliament. Reinfeldt has time and time again denounced SD, and the left has obviously no affection for SD. Because Swedish law says that a government can continue to govern until it has lost a parliamentary vote, the most likely outcome is a Reinfeldt minority government. Though Reinfeldt has publicly said that he’d like to win the Greens over to his government, the Greens have categorically refused these overtures and has said that it would not work with the Alliance (while also stating they would never work with SD). He could still depend on vote-by-vote support from the Greens (or SD) depending on the circumstances, but it is likely that the Alliance will find its second term a lot harder than its first term. There is little precedent in Sweden for snap elections after a government has lost the support of the majority of MPs, but a lot of that comes from the fact that, with a few exceptions, the governing coalition had a majority and party discipline usually ensured that there would be no chance of a government collapsing thanks to backbenchers or rebels. It isn’t however impossible that this government could face the voters earlier than 2014.
Swedish voting patterns have historically been easily explainable by class distinctions, and truth be told, this election isn’t much different. The right found most of its largest base of support in the affluent suburbs of major cities (places such as Danderyd and Lidingö near Stockholm or Vellinge and Båstad near Malmö – all of which were some of the right’s strongest areas) or in the less industrial rural areas of southern Sweden. With a 26.2% margin in its favour, Stockholm County (which in this case excludes Stockholm proper) was the Alliance’s strongest area. The left’s vote gradually decreased the further south you got, with Norrbotten, the northernmost county in Sweden, giving the Red-Greens a 37.8% margin over the Alliance. The Swedish left – S in particular – historically finds most of its strength in small towns and industrial centres in central and northern Sweden, as well as in some cities such as Malmö; a trend which correlates with the pattern of Swedish industrialization being based in small towns rather than large towns or urban conglomerations.
Apart from Gotland, which isn’t on the mainland anyway, the right won all the constituencies in southern Sweden aside from Blekinge, whose small population is more working-class than the rest of the region. The left, S in particular, did particularly badly in Skåne and in Malmö. Malmö, which had backed the Red-Greens by a 3.1% margin not only backed the Alliance narrowly but placed M ahead of S in the town, a major blow to the Social Democrats in one of their old strongholds. Outside Malmö, the left was demolished, losing the three electoral constituencies which make up Skåne by margins ranging from 12.8% to 24.4%. Immigration is a particularly big issue in Skåne, and, to add to that, a lot of the left’s strength in Skåne comes from declining small industrial centres with high unemployment, which is the breeding ground for SD (and the European far-right in general). It shouldn’t be surprising that some of SD’s strongest showings in Skåne – in towns such as Bjuv (14.9%) and Bromölla (15.4%) – are in old industrial centres. That being said, SD also did very well in rural Skåne, which explains why some have described SD’s voter as rural unemployed youth.
Looking at the results by party, quickly, one notices the close correlation between M and FP – nowadays these parties largely fish in the same pool – but a weak correlation between C and M or even between M and KD. C’s base continues to be in rural areas, including some traditionally left-wing rural areas, and it remains disproportionately weak in urban centres – winning just 2.8% in Malmö and 3.8% in Göteborg. However, C won 6.3% in Stockholm city, a result which is somewhat unusual for a farmer’s party in a major urban centre. That factoid – and the related factoid that C’s vote increased in both the Riksdag and municipal elections in Stockholm – is possibly a sign of the successful transformation of the party into a modern centrist green party. As for KD, the party clearly remains rather confined to Sweden’s Bible Belt and its heart in Jönköping County, where KD won 12.9% of the vote, which is nearly double its second best result. More amusingly, remnants of free churches-voting-FP in Västerbotten (where KD also did well while M did really poorly) is also quite amusing.
An interesting pattern in the results here is that the senior government party – M – picked up votes based on the popularity of its leader with the swing voter, but it didn’t squash the smaller parties. Many had thought that, as sometimes/usually happens with junior coalition partners, the largest party would pick up votes from the smaller parties. That may say a lot about the remarkably stable (overall) bases of party support in Sweden, but it also does say something about the competence of the smaller parties’ leaderships and their ability to find a voice in government. That being said, none of the smaller parties in the Alliance performed spectacularly and in fact M was the only party not to lose percentage wise (FP picked up 2,129 votes but lost 0.48% – higher turnout is the main culprit).
It shouldn’t be surprising that MP did best in urban areas, with a high of 12.2% in Stockholm and second-best in Göteborg (with 10.7%). It also did well in other rather middle-class urban areas (often those with a university), such as Uppsala but also Visby (on the island of Gotland, a place I know little about). Gotland is also the only county which voted for the right in 2006 but went to the left this time, albeit only by a tiny 0.4% margin.
On a final note on the other parties in this election, they did very poorly overall. The Pirates won only 0.65%, up a mere 0.02%, while the two other “big” small parties – Feminist Initiative (a rather insane radical fringe feminist party) and the Pensioners did worse than in 2006, losing 0.28% and 0.33% respectively. Junilistan, the Eurosceptic party which had done well in the 2004 EU elections (but got decimated in 2009) won a mere ten votes though the elections site says they weren’t on an ordered ballot, whatever that means.
Counting for local elections is far from over – they’re still in the early stages of re-canvassing results from the County Council elections, but, as in 2006, S did better in the local elections than in the national elections. The left had usually done worse in local elections – where local single-issue parties often do very well – than in national elections, but this is the second time in a row that the opposite has happened. Based on election night results, S has 33.1% against 27.3% for M, with FP in third (7.5%) ahead of the Greens (6.7%). C has 6.2%, V has 5.7%, KD has 5.1%, SD has 4.6% and others have 3.8%. That gives the left 45.5% against 46.1% for the left. If anything, it’s good proof for the theory that Mona Sahlin herself cost S a good bit of support, some of which switched over to the Greens. Without Sahlin as a major player, S did better in the local elections and the Greens did more poorly. SD has also done well on the local level, which is of some interest in that it shows that the party may not be (for now), a protest party confined exclusively to one level of government (as happens with a lot of those protest outfits, eg, the Pirates). In another trend of municipal elections, M lost votes – sometimes a lot – in its strongholds such as Vellinge (-17.7%), Danderyd (-8.4%) and even Stockholm (-2.7%) – to the benefit of FP, SD and in Vellinge, a local party. Most of the places where M lost ground are very wealthy, and nobody really knows why they lost votes, apart from local factors and potentially unpopular local administrations.
SD first blipped on the radar in the town of Landskrona in Skåne, a multi cultural working-class town hurt by the decline of shipbuilding. In the 2006 local elections, they had won 22% of the vote. I don’t know which role they played in the council, but the results after four years of a significant SD presence in legislature could be interesting if only to see what the future holds for SD and national Swedish politics. If Landskrona is any indication, SD could possibly not cheer for long. Indeed, the party’s vote receded by 6.5% to reach 15.8%, a trend which has – in Landskrona at least – benefited FP whose vote grew by 7.6% and won 30.1% of the vote overall. S also picked up steam a bit, winning back 2.1% of the vote, but M’s vote fell.
The second term of the Reinfeldt government will be interesting to watch, as it will likely provide answers as to the fate of far-right politics in Sweden (down the Danish road or down the NyD road), the fate of Swedish social democracy (and the Scandinavian model) and the Swedish right.
Sweden votes on September 19, 2010 for a general election to its unicameral legislature, the Riksdag as well as 20 County Councils (Landsting) and 289 municipal councils.
The Riksdag has 349 seats, 31o of which are elected in 27 constituencies (a majority coincide with counties, but the largest counties are split into two or more constituencies) and the last 39 are at-large ‘evening out’ seats which are used to correct the deviations from proportional national distribution that may arise when allocating the fixed constituency seats. The constituency seats are allocated using the corrected odd-number method, a variation of d’Hondt. Firstly, all vote totals for the parties in a given constituency are divided by 1.4. The party with the largest number of votes after division is then awarded the first seat and has its original vote total divided by 3. The numbers are again compared and the party with the largest number gets the next seat. When a party gets its second seat its number is divided by 5, then 7, 9, etc. In order to take part in the distribution of seats you must either have recieved 4% or more of the total national vote (the Riksdag-threshold) or at least 12% of the vote in the constituency.
Instead of giving a political history of the country, which will likely be too long, this preview post will introduce the parties and their electoral bases before moving on to look at the issues and leaders in this campaign.
After the 2006 elections, 7 parties were represented in the Riksdag. Here are the 2006 results:
S – Social Democrats 34.99% (-4.86%) winning 130 seats (-14)
M – Moderate Party 26.23% (+10.97%) winning 97 seats (+42)
C – Centre Party 7.88% (+1.69%) winning 29 seats (+7)
FP – Liberal People’s Party 7.54% (-5.85%) winning 28 seats (-20)
KD – Christian Democrats 6.59% (-2.56%) winning 24 seats (-9)
V – Left Party 5.85% (+2.54%) winning 22 seats (-8)
MP – Green Party 5.24% (+0.59%) winning 19 seats (+2)
Since 2006 at least, however, people have often classified these seven parties into one of two coalitions. In 2006, the Alliance for Sweden (also known as the “blues”) was formed between M, C, FP and KD. While the Social Democrats, V and Greens have cooperated in the past, they had no official electoral coalition until 2008, when they formed an Alliance-like coalition, the Red-Greens. In 2006, the Alliance won 48.24% and 178 seats to the Red-Greens’ 46.08% and 171 seats.
Though this division into formal coalitions is a recent occurrence, Swedish politics have often been polarized between two heterogeneous blocks formed by parties who disagreed by one another. For example, the current Alliance has long been referred to as the “bourgeois” parties, a term which has managed to stick to this day. This appellation is a fine reflection of the role class plays in Swedish voting patterns.
When one thinks of Sweden, a thought concerning the well-known Swedish welfare state or the so-called “Scandinavian model” is likely to come up. The Social Democrats (S or SAP), long Sweden’s hegemonic party and once a well-oiled electoral machine, have been central to building that Swedish model and they have been Sweden’s natural governing party, topping the poll in all elections since 1917 and governing for the vast majority of the twentieth century (since 1932 with the exception of a few months in 1936, 1976-1982, 1991-1994 and since 2006). The Social Democrats emerged in 1889 and gained strength throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, eventually displacing Sweden’s two historical ideological families, the liberals and conservatives. The Social Democrats were instrumental in passing universal suffrage for males and females in 1921, but for most of the latter 1920s, the Social Democrats were out of power. In 1932, the first election after the Depression, the Social Democrats started their near-uninterrupted 44-year rule. Under people such as Per Albin Hansson and Tage Erlander, the Social Democrats developed Sweden’s famous model of a strong interventionist state playing a major role in the development of the economy and using state revenue to ensure the welfare of the general population. The so-called Swedish model, still in state today, proved to be vastly successful and lifted Sweden’s income up rather dramatically. Although Sweden’s export-dominated economy relied heavily on the United States and the west, Sweden became one of the leaders of the neutral non-aligned movement and allowed itself to be a vocal critic of American policies in Vietnam and other communist and socialist-bloc countries. In line with this tradition of neutrality, Sweden has also played a major role in international development efforts and remains of the top countries in terms of foreign aid spending. Despite the harsh criticism of American foreign policy in the 1970s offered by Olof Palme, probably the most emblematic Swedish prime minister (if only because of his assassination), the Social Democrats cannot be described as deeply left-wing in line with communist-bloc countries. While the Social Democrats, who rarely won outright majorities, relied on passive Communist support, the party in fact shunned and spied on the Communists and the Social Democrats have been noted for their historical pragmatism when it comes to accepting the market economy or a capitalist society. Even in the early twentieth century, the Social Democrats were reticent Marxists and embraced reformist socialism over revolutionary socialism rather early in their history. The lack of notable working-class repression in Sweden as well as the historical connection with religious (Lutheran) folk movements likely explains the apparent moderate nature of the Social Democrats.
The party’s current leader is Mona Sahlin, a fairly inept and not particularly charismatic one at that. She is something of a maverick within the party and the party – and the Red-Greens as a whole – have struggled to find a voice under her leadership.
Closely linked to the trade union movement, whose leadership often goes hand-in-hand with the party’s leadership, the Social Democrats have a strong base with the working-class, which in Sweden is spread out throughout the country in small and medium-sized industrial towns largely in central and northern Sweden. While the party has been forced to expand its base, the class-dominated nature of Swedish politics means that the party remains largely a working-class party, though it has also garnered in recent years the bulk of the immigrant vote. The Social Democrats won over 40% of the vote in all elections between 1932 and 1988, but has since broken that line only once, in 1994. It’s 2006 35% showing was its worst showing since 1914, and its 2009 European election result of 24.7% was its worst result in its existence.
Heir to the conservative tradition, the Moderates (M) find their roots in the conservative parties which have existed under various names since 1886. Originally, the conservatives were the party of the wealthy aristocracy and those tied to the Lutheran State Church. Originally protectionist, like most conservative parties, the right gradually moved to Keynesian policies and, since the 1970s, have de-emphasized traditionalist conservative rhetoric in favour of a traditional liberal rhetoric on economic issues, supporting tax and spending cuts, privatization and pro-business regulations. The party became known as the Moderates in 1969, as part of the party’s attempt to move it out of the electoral gutter by portraying it as a more modern liberal party. Under its leader, Gösta Bohman, M participated in the centre-right coalition government of Thorbjörn Fälldin between 1976 and 1982 but the Moderates’ opposition to Fälldin’s more centrist tax policy led to the breakup of that government in 1982. Later, under Carl Bildt, the Moderates were the largest party in the right’s unsuccessful 1991-1994 government, which started drastic liberal reforms of the economy including deregulation, privatizations and tax cuts. An economic downturn which had started in 1992 effectively doomed the government, which lost re-election in 1994. After a disastrous 2002 election under a rather right-wing incompetent leader, Fredrik Reinfeldt became the party’s leader in 2003 and effectively transformed the party. Under Reinfeldt, the Moderates have de-emphasized core liberal policies such as tax cuts and pro-business regulations, adopting instead a policy which accepted the welfare model and a new “work policy” including tax cuts for those who work while cutting unemployment and sick leave benefits. Reinfeldt’s shift towards the centre has often been compared to David Cameron’s similar shift in the United Kingdom, though Reinfeldt preceded Cameron in making that move. The Moderates remain pro-American and pro-European, though the pro-EU message has recently been toned down and the party’s earlier support for NATO membership all but forgotten.
The party’s base remains the wealthy, a fact which has often been a negative for the party because it associated a mistrust of the party with poorer voters, who saw M as being closely linked to the values and attitudes of the very wealthy. Their main areas of strength lie in the big cities, which in Sweden are very wealthy, as well in the suburbs of these cities. Stockholm, for example, is a Moderate stronghold. While it has gained strength in recent years in rural southern Sweden, it remains weak in rural areas, especially in the north.
In the mold of traditional Scandinavian farmers’ parties, the Centre Party (C) is historically linked to the agrarian rural farmers’ organizations which emerged in most of Scandinavia early in the twentieth century. They were in some ways very conservative, being, for example, the most pro-Nazi party (outside actual Nazi parties) in the 1930s, but they were also largely pragmatic and not inherently linked to either socialist or conservative ideology. It cooperated with the left in the 1930s and again between 1951 and 1957, but has since been largely allied with the right. As mentioned above, the Centre Party’s Torbjörn Fälldin was the leader of the 1976-1982 centre-right government, winning that right after the party emerged as the second-largest party after S in 1973 and again in 1976. However, after 1976, the Centre Party entered into a period of constant electoral decline which lasted until 1998, when the party was reduced to a mere 5%. Since then, the party’s fortunes have perked up, largely a result of a new liberal direction under Maud Olofsson. The party dropped its old Euroscepticism in favour of a policy of “Europe as a federal state” and notably became vocally socially liberal and also adopted an environmentalist-green shift, while also shifting more towards the right on economic issues, with the party railing against Sweden’s labour laws.
Despite this shift, which did not please the party’s old more leftist rural base, it has retained an old base in rural areas, which still make up the bulk of the party’s electorate. Though it has somewhat broken into more urban areas and gained representation in some town councils in the major cities, C remains extremely weak in major urban areas, holding, for example, only one seat out of Stockholm’s 101-seat municipal council.
The Liberal People’s Party (FP) is the heir to the old liberal tradition, which was historically supported by the urban professional middle-class but also members of evangelical “free churches” separate from the conservative Lutheran State Church. This rather awkward base led to a 1923 split in the liberals over the issue of prohibition, which the evangelicals supported but which the urban professionals opposed. This split was reconciled in 1934 with the creation of the People’s Party, which added the name “Liberal” in 1990. FP has long been a key supporter of liberal economic measures, but has also voiced support for a strong welfare state and public healthcare. Most notably though, it is the most vocally pro-American and pro-Israel party, supporting, for example, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also vocally pro-Israel, something which has a lot to do with the fact that FP has often been the “party of Jews”. It has also taken liberal stands on social issues such as lesbian insemination and gay rights, but also on immigration, with FP traditionally being the most pro-immigration party. For example, the party’s leader walked out of a 1991 debate which included the leader of the xenophobic New Democracy (NyD) party. Yet, a paltry 4.7% in 1998 led the party to contradict its past support for immigration by taking a tougher populist line, favouring language tests for immigrants and taking up electorally fruitful law-and-order rhetoric. Though the party’s social liberal base may feel betrayed by these new positions, it did heavily pay off in 2002, when the party won 13.3% of the vote.
Similarly to M, FP is very much a urban party, and has traditionally been known as the party of academics, teachers and professionals (as well as Jews, as noted above); even more so with the slow erosion of the old rural base in the southern Bible Belt and the evangelical communities in Västerbotten.
The Christian Democrats (KD) are the youngest of the bourgeois parties, having been founded in 1964 and having entered parliament independently only in 1991 (it had won seats in 1985 through an electoral deal with C). Originally founded as a deeply socially conservative party based in the evangelical free churches, the fringe party moderated starting with the 1973 accession of Alf Svensson to the party’s leadership. It has dropped its opposition to abortion and homosexuality, changed sides in the nuclear debate (from opposition to support) and in the EU membership debate in 1994 (also from opposition to support). As mentioned above, Svensson himself got in in 1985 thanks to a deal with C, but got in on its own accord only in 1991 and won a record high 12% in 1998. However, the party has been struggling as of late, hindered by the departure of vastly popular Alf Svensson. While the KD’s 6.6% showing in 2006 was a fine showing, some of that may be attributed to the party’s populist liberal rhetoric displayed that year, with positions including cutting the gas tax and abolishing property taxes. Despite that apparently liberal rhetoric, KD has traditionally been an advocate of so-called “compassionate conservatism”, something which makes it, along with FP and C, pro-immigration.
Contrarily to FP and M, the KDs are weak in urban areas and their base is largely in rural southern Sweden, especially the Bible Belt of evangelical traditions. They are especially strong in Jönköping, which is the epicenter of the evangelical movement. Its other bases are largely small evangelical communities further north and west.
The Left Party (V), also referred to as the “communists”, are the successors to the Swedish Communist Party, originally founded in 1917 (though they only became known as the Communists in 1921) by a split in the Social Democrats between the reformist majority and the revolutionary minority. There were later splits within the party, first in 1921 with the formation of the anti-Comintern SSV and in 1929 with the formation of the anti-Stalinist Kilbom-Flyg faction, which later became Nazi. The party experienced a boost in support in 1944 and slightly less so in 1948, but the Cold War forced it into decline while it remained pro-Soviet until the mid 60s. While the Communists were shunned by the Social Democrats, who security apparatus spied on them and whose leaders publicly denounced communism, the party in parliament supported the “workers’ governments”, knowing that its voters would never forgive it for having brought down a government of the proletariat. Starting in 1964, the Communists moved towards eurocommunism (not without a few splits by hardliners) and changed its name to Left Party (V) in 1990, finally abandoning communism. While largely stagnant in the 1970s and 1980s, the party’s fortunes rebounded in 1994 and particularly in 1998, when it won a record 12%. The party has done poorly since it formally started supporting Social Democratic government, albeit from the outside, and fell to 5.8% support in 2006. The fact that V’s current leader, Lars Ohly (who is slightly bizarre), is an alleged communist, has often led more centrist and right-leaning observers to dislike V rather strongly and deride it as communist.
Though the stereotype is that V is the party of poor academics, which is true, the party also has genuine working-class support, especially true in old mining areas in the far north, where it still polls rather strongly.
The Green Party (MP) emerged in 1981 and entered Parliament in 1988 (and reentered in 1994 after failing in 1991) and has since been largely integrated into the left despite earlier claims of being neither left nor right. Its program is not worth much description, though the party’s traditional Euroscepticism (much more so in the past) does distinguish it somewhat from traditionally pro-European greens in continental Europe (such as the French or German Greens, though admittedly greens in the UK, Iberia and Italy are more eurosceptic). Until recently, the Greens were opposed to EU membership entirely. While it has not done especially well in Riksdag elections (averaging 5% or so), it did win a record 17% in the 1995 EU elections, largely out of being the anti-EU list that time. Though the Greens are the Social Democrats’ most acceptable coalition partner (V carrying around the unfashionable communist tag), they have cooperated locally with the right.
The party’s electorate is, as is to expected, urban and educated, in addition to being largely young and female.
On a final note of a party which is not in Parliament but may well be in a few days, the Sweden Democrats (SD). The SD is, basically put, the Swedish far-right (and the most ‘acceptable’ one, it isn’t Nazi for example) and is, as would be obvious, anti-immigration and favours stricter regulations on immigration. It received 2.93% in the 2006 election and did especially well in Skåne, where they are represented in the County Council. Its electorate is largely an old working-class or small shopkeepers one, though it isn’t especially poor but it probably also wins support from racist wealthy whites, of which there are quite a few in Skåne. The similarly far-right New Democracy (NyD) party had won 6.7% in 1991 and won representation, and later supported, from the outside, the Bildt cabinet (which unenthusiastically accepted their support), but internal squabbles and the like destroyed it and it fell to 1% or so in 1994.
Though one will probably complain about the exclusion of the Pirates (PP), who hold two Europarl seats, they are unlikely to do well this time. The fact that the debate has shifted to serious issues and the furor over the Pirate Bay shutdown in 2009 ended, PP lacks an issue to play on. Higher turnout, much higher turnout, in this election also hurts the Pirates in that most of its voters are extremely committed activists, the type who bother to vote when nobody else does.
After the 2006 election, the government slipped well-behind the Red-Greens in poll, falling to a paltry 38.8% overall in Feb. 2008. A number of scandals concerning the personal behaviour of certain ministers and some infighting led to this drastic and marked decline in support for the Alliance, as well as a short-lived boost for Mona Sahlin, one of Sweden’s first female major party leaders. The government rebounded somewhat with the financial crisis, where Sweden has managed to do fairly well, thanks in part to Reinfeldt’s “work policy” described earlier. Furthermore, as soon as the opposition unveiled its proposals, the government retook the lead in polls. Mona Sahlin has never been vastly popular and the Red-Greens have struggled to find a pragmatic, reasonable voice in their opposition. Furthermore, a recent pronouncement by the government that it would not campaign on tax cuts but instead on increased spending for social welfare programs caught the left off-guard, and effectively derailed badly the left’s proposal to spend 12 billion more than whatever the government would pledge to spend on welfare. The bottom line is that a campaign on the economy is good for the right, and bad for the left (if only because it hasn’t come up with a reasonable platform on that line). Efforts by the left to shift the debate to welfare, where the left is still somewhat stronger, hasn’t worked. As for the underlying debate on immigration, it is largely assume that only SD will benefit from it given that there seems to be a general distrust of all parties, even traditionally ‘immigration-skeptic’ parties like M and S, by the anti-immigration voter.
Under coalition lines on the right, M is doing well while C and KD are struggling and FP doing decently (meaning staying at 2006 levels); meaning that the historic division of the right (a major aspect of Swedish politics) is slowly fading as Reinfeldt manages to make M a centre-right party with a vaster appeal. On the other hand, the Greens are doing especially well on the left, reaching 8-9%, while V is also doing slightly better (or stagnating) than they did in 2006 – all a reflection on the low appeal that Mona Sahlin or her party have, even with left-wing voters. There is also the possibility that M might in fact overtake S as the largest party, something which would be a major symbolic blow to the Social Democrats, for whom being the “biggest party” is a defining part of the party’s identity.
The high likelihood that SD will win seats (if not by clearing 4% then by clearing 12% in Skåne) means that there is also the possibility of the right losing its majority while remaining the largest bloc. There are a number of scenarios which emerge, including a small party from one coalition switching to the other (like the Greens switching over to the right), a centrist government of sorts, a Grand Coalition and finally a right-wing (or left-wing, if they’re the biggest party) minority government relying on intermittent support from SD. The first scenarios all have a bunch of flaws in them, meaning that the last scenario is the most likely one to emerge in case of a minority Parliament. It must be noted though that SD hates Mona Sahlin, so the idea of a left-SD deal of sorts is to be excluded right off the bat. A formal Alliance-SD deal of sorts is also extremely unlikely, of course.
Below is the latest Sifo poll, the last before tomorrow’s vote:
Here is the first post in a series of posts concerning the various Euro results from June 7. The results for the major parties winning seats (or not, in a few cases) are presented here, along with a very brief statistical analysis of what happened. If applicable, a map of the results is also presented. Again, except for the Germany map, all of these maps are my creations.
ÖVP 30% (-2.7%) winning 6 seats (nc)
SPÖ 23.8% (-9.5%) winning 4 seats (-3)
HP Martin’s List 17.7% (+3.7%) winning 3 seats (+1)
FPÖ 12.8% (+6.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Greens 9.7% (-3.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
As I expected, the junior partner in government, the centre-right ÖVP came out on top but the most surprising was the ÖVP’s decisive margin of victory over its senior partner, the social democratic SPÖ. In fact, the SPÖ, like the German SPD, has won its worst result since 1945. This is probably due to a poor campaign a poor top candidate – Hannes Swoboda. Swoboda ranted against job losses and outsourcing when he himself did the same thing to his employees at Siemens. The good result came from Hans-Peter Martin’s anti-corruption outfit, which got a third seat and increased it’s vote. While improving on its poor 2004 result, the far-right FPÖ is far from the 17.5% it won in the 2008 federal elections. A lot is due to abstention (anti-Euro voters being a large contingent of the abstentionists) and also Martin’s success. The Greenies have unsurprisingly fallen, though they held their second seat due to late (and still incoming) postal votes. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider fell just short of the threshold, and it did not win Haider’s Carinthian stronghold. Turnout was 45.3%, slightly up on 2004.
GERB 24.36% (+2.68%) winning 5 seats (nc)
BSP 18.5% (-2.91%) winning 4 seats (-1)
DPS 14.14% (-6.12%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Attack 11.96% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (-1)
NDSV 7.96% (+1.89%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Blue Coalition (UDF and DSB) 7.95% (-1.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
The pro-European centre-right GERB won, as in 2007, defeating the Socialists (BSP, officialy grouped with smaller parties in the ‘Coalition for Bulgaria’). The Turkish minority party DPS fell significantly compared to its surprisingly excellent 2007 result. This is due to higher turnout and to competition (by Lider) in the very active vote buying market in Bulgaria. The liberal NDSV led by former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II came back from the dead to win 2 seats and increase its vote share – all this due to a top candidate who had a high personal profile and popularity in an election where person and popularity are very important.
Democratic Rally 35.7% (+7.5%) winning 2 seats
AKEL 34.9% (+7%) winning 2 seats
Democratic Party 12.3% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat
Movement for Social Democracy 9.9% (-0.9%) winning 1 seat (+1)
European Party 4.1% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
To my surprise, the opposition centre-right (albeit pro-reunification) DISY defeated the governing communist AKEL. However, both parties increased their share of the vote compared to 2004, mainly on the back of the centrist anti-reunification DIKO and the Social Democrats (who won a seat due to the collapse of the liberal European Party).
Civic Democrats (ODS) 31.45% (+1.41%) winning 9 seats (±0)
Social Democrats (ČSSD) 22.38% (+13.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
Communist Party (KSČM) 14.18% (-6.08%) winning 4 seats (-2)
KDU-ČSL 7.64% (-1.93%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Of the shocking results of the night, the Czech result was a shocker to me. I had predicted the Social Democrats to win all along (most polls agreed, albeit very late polls showed a narrow ODS lead), and you have this very large ODS victory that really comes out of the blue. This is really quite a piss poor result for the ČSSD and its controversial and, in my opinion, poor, leader, Jiří Paroubek. I wasn’t surprised by the results of either the Communists (on a tangent, the KSČM is the only formerly ruling communist party which hasn’t changed it name and it remains very much stuck in 1950) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). The KSČM’s loses were predictable because 2004 was an especially fertile year for them (the ČSSD was in government, a very unpopular government). Two small parties which won seats in 2004 – the centre-right SNK European Democrats (11.02% and 2 seats) and the far-right populist Independents (8.18% and 2 seats) suffered a very painful death this year. The SNK polled 1.66%, the Independents (most of which were Libertas candidates) won 0.54%. The Greens, a parliamentary party, won a very deceiving result – 2.06%. This is probably due to turnout, which remained at 28%.
Social Democrats 21.49 % (-11.1%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Venstre 20.24% (+0.9%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Socialist People’s Party 15.87% (+7.9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Danish People’s Party 15.28% (+8.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Conservative People’s Party 12.69% (+1.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
People’s Movement Against the EU 7.20% (+2.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Liberal Party 4.27% (-2.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
June Movement 2.37% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Liberal Alliance 0.59%
Red: SD, Blue: Venstre, Purple: SF, Green: DF
No real surprise in the Danish results, which were as I expected them to be. The Social Democrats drop compared to their superb 2004 showing was to be expected, obviously. Obviously, these loses were profitable not to the government (Venstre, Liberals) but to the Socialists (SF) and the far-right (DF). SF and DF have won their best result in any Danish election, either European or legislative. The June Movement, the second anti-EU movement which is in decline since it’s shock 16% in 1999, has lost its sole remaining MEP. The older (and leftier) People’s Movement has picked up some of the June Movement’s vote, though its results are far from excellent. Despite an electoral alliance with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals (Radikal Venstre) lost its MEP.
Centre 26.1% winning 2 seats (+1)
Indrek Tarand (Ind) 25.8% winning 1 seat (+1)
Reform 15.3% winning 1 seat (±0)
Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica 12.2% winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Democrats 8.7% winning 1 seat (-2)
Estonian Greens 2.7%
Turnout was up 17% in Estonia over 2004, reaching 44% (26.8% in 2004), correcting the weird result of 2004 which saw the normally weak Social Democrats come out on top. However, the surprising result here was Reform’s rout (compared to the 2007 general elections) at the profit of Indrek Tarand, a popular independent. The opposition Centre Party, however, came out on top. However, the map clearly shows that Tarand took votes from all places – Centre, Reform, right, Greenies (winning a very deceiving 2.7%), and Social Democrats. The Centre came out on top purely due to the Russian vote in Ida-Viru and in Tallinn, the capital (despite the name, the Centre performs very well in urban areas – it’s not at all a rural centrist party a la Finland).
National Coalition 23.2% (-0.5%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Centre 19% (-4.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 17.5% (-3.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 12.4% (+2%) winning 2 seats (+1)
True Finns 9.8% (+9.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Swedish People’s Party 6.1% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Left Alliance 5.9% (-3.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Christian Democrats 4.2% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
No surprises from Finland, which came out roughly as expected. The junior partner in government, the centre-right National Coalition (Kok) defeated its senior partner, the agrarian liberal Centre Party. However, the Finnish left (SDP and Left) suffered a very cold shower, winning its worst result in years. The Left even lost its sole MEP. A lot of that left-wing vote probably went to the Greenies (who won a very good result) and also the anti-immigration True Finns (in coalition with the Christian Democrats, which allowed the Christiandems to get one MEP). The Swedish People’s Party ended up holding its seat. The map is quite typical of Finnish elections, with the agrarian Centre dominating in the sparsely populated north and the National Coalition dominating in middle-class urban (Helsinki, where they narrowly beat out the Greenies for first) and suburban areas. The Swedish vote is concentrated on the Åland islands (over 80% of the vote for them) but also in small fishing communities on the west coast of Finland (which does not show up on the map).
CDU/CSU 30.7% + 7.2% (-6.6%) winning 42 seats (-7)
SPD 20.8% (-0.7%) winning 23 seats (nc)
Greens 12.1% (+0.2%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Free Democrats 11% (+4.9%) winning 12 seats (+5)
The Left 7.6% (+1.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)
In the EU’s most populated country, the Social Democrats took a major hit by failing to gain anything after the SPD’s horrible (worst since 1945) result in 2004. Overall, the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister, the CSU, won as in 2004 but their vote also took a hit (the CDU/CSU was a popular opposition party then, they’re the senior government party now). The winners were of course the Greens, who held on to their remarkable 2004 result and in fact gained a 14th MEP, but certainly the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The Left also gained slightly compared to 2004. The Left’s map remains largely a map of the old DDR but, for the first time, you have darker shades appearing in the West – specifically in the industrial regions of the Saar, the Ruhr and Bremen city. In the end the CSU had no problems with the 5% threshold and they won a relatively decent (compared to most recent results, not 2004 or 2006) result – 48% – in Bavaria. Frei Wahler took 6.7% in Bavaria, and 1.7% federally.
PASOK 36.64% (+2.61%) winning 8 seats (nc)
New Democracy 32.29% (-10.72%) winning 8 seats (-3)
Communist Party 8.35% (-1.13%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Popular Orthodox Rally 7.14% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Coalition of the Radical Left 4.7% (+0.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecologist Greens 3.49% (+2.88%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pan-Hellenic Macedonian Front 1.27%
No Greek surprise overall, though the Greenies’ poor result could be one. As expected, the opposition ‘socialist’ PASOK defeated the governing unpopular and corrupt right-wing New Democracy. However, there remains no great love for PASOK, partly due to the fact that both ND and PASOK are very similar. The Communist Party (KKE), one of Europe’s most communist communist parties (it still lives in 1951, decrying bourgeois and capitalists), won 8.35%, slightly above its 2007 electoral result but below the KKE’s excellent 2004 result (over 9%). The surprise came from LAOS and the Greens. The Greenies, who were polling 8-11% in the last polls, fell to a mere 3% partly due to a controversial video by the Green Party leader who said that Macedonia (FYROM, the country) should be allowed to keep its name (s0mething which does not go down well in Greece). Most of the Green strength in polls came from disenchanted ND supporters who ended up voting LAOS (the ultra-Orthodox kooks). The Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a rather poor result, probably due to the fact that it is seen as responsible for the violence and lootings during the 2008 riots in Athens.
Fidesz 56.36% winning 14 seats (+2)
Socialist 17.37% winning 4 seats (-5)
Jobbik 14.77% winning 3 seats (+3)
Hungarian Democratic Forum 5.31% winning 1 seat (nc)
The surprise in Hungary came from the spectacular result of the far-right quasi-Nazi Jobbik (which has its own private militia), which did much better than any poll or exit poll had predicted. Jobbik’s results significantly weakened the conservative Fidesz which won “only” 56% (down from 65-70% in some polls). The governing Socialist MSZP took a spectacular thumping, as was widely expected. While the right-wing MDF held its seat, the liberal SZDSZ (f0rmer coalition partner in the MSZP-led government until 2008) lost both of its seats.
Fine Gael 29.1% (+1.3%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Fianna Fáil 24.1% (-5.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Labour 13.9% (+3.4%) winning 3 seats (+2)
Sinn Féin 11.2% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Libertas 3.1% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Socialist 1.5% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party 1.1% (-3.2%)
As expected, Fine Gael came out on top of FPVs in Ireland, inflicting a major defeat on the governing Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil, did not, however, slip to third behind Labour as some pollsters made it seem. This is due in a large part due to Labour’s complete lack of organization in most rural areas. In Dublin, both Fine Gael and Labour incumbents made it through without much sweat. The race, as expected, was for the third seat between the Fianna Fáil incumbent (Eoin Ryan), Socialist leader Joe Higgins and the Sinn Féin incumbent (Mary Lou McDonald). Surprisingly, Sinn Féin was the first out leaving the final seat between Ryan and Higgins. In the end, Higgins got the quasi-entirety of McDonald’s transferable votes and defeated Ryan with 82,366 votes against 76,956 votes for Ryan on the 7th count. Former Greenie (against the party’s participation in government) Patricia McKenna won 4.3% on first preferences against 4.7% against the official Greenie (however, further transfers from joke candidates got McKenna all the way to count 5, while the Greenie got out by count 3). In the East, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness got elected on the first count, quite the feat indeed. However, no luck for Fine Gael’s second candidate in holding the third seat held by a retiring Fine Gael incumbent. Labour’s Nessa Childers, second on first prefs, far outpolled John Paul Phelan (FG’s second candidate) and got the second seat. Fianna Fáil held its seat. In the North-West, all incumbents (1 Independent ALDE, 1 FF, 1 FG) held their seats with Marian Harkin (Ind-ALDE) topping the poll (however, both Fianna Fáil candidates combined outpolled him and Fine Gael’s MEP). The founder and leader of Libertas, Declan Ganley polled a respectable 13.66% on FPVs and held out till the last count but lost out to Fine Gael due to rather poor transfers from the other anti-Lisbon outfit, SF. In the South, FF incumbent Brian Crowley topped the poll and won easily, as did Sean Kelly (FG). The third seat was between the incumbent Independent (eurosceptic and social conservative) Kathy Sinnott and Labour’s Alan Kelly. Kelly won.
In the local elections, the final seat share is as follows:
Fine Gael 340 seats (+47)
Fianna Fáil 218 seats (-84)
Labour 132 seats (+31)
Others and Indies 132 seats (+40)
Sinn Féin 54 seats (nc)
Socialist 4 seats (nc)
Green Party 3 seats (-15)
People of Freedom 35.26% winning 29 seats
Democratic Party 26.13% winning 21 seats
Lega Nord 10.20% winning 9 seats
Italy of Values 8.00% winning 7 seats
Union of the Centre 6.51% winning 5 seats
Communists (PRC+PdCI) 3.38% winning 0 seats
Sinistra e Libertà 3.12% winning 0 seats
Italian Radicals (Bonino-Pannella List) 2.42% winning 0 seats
Pole of Autonomy (La Destra+MPA) 2.22% winning 0 seats
South Tyrolean’s People Party 0.46% winning 1 seat
Berlusconi Coalition (PdL+LN+Autonomy) 47.68% winning 38 seats
PD Coalition (PD-SVP+IdV+Radicals) 37.01% winning 29 seats
Red: PD, Blue: PdL, Green: Lega Nord, Yellow in Aosta Valley: Valdotanian Union (PdL ally), Yellow in Sudtirol: SVP (PD ally)
The Italian results were certainly a setback for Silvio Berlusconi and his “party”, the PdL, which performed a bit lower than what he and polls had expected (38-41% range). The centre-left PD did relatively well, and this will atleast keep the party from splitting up into the old Democrats of the Left and the Daisy. In terms of coalitions, the two large parliamentary blocs stand almost exactly where they stood overall in 2008, with a very very slight improvement for Berlusconi’s coalition. The marking result of this election is probably that of Lega Nord, which has won its best result in any national Italian election (narrowly beating its previous record, 10.1% in the 1996 general election). The Lega has expanded its support to the “south” (north-central Italy), notably polling 11% in Emilia-Romagna and 4% in Tuscany. The support and future of Lega Nord is to be watched closely in the future, due to a potential new electoral law which could significantly hinder it’s parliamentary representation (more on that later). The other good result is from Antonio di Pietro’s strongly anti-Berlusconi and anti-corruption populist Italia dei Valori, which has won its best result ever, by far. It has almost doubled its support since last year’s general election. After being shutout of Parliament in 2008, the Communists and other leftie parties (Socialists and Greens) are now out of the European Parliament, depsite improving quite a bit on the Rainbow’s 2008 result. Of the two coalitions, the old Communist one made up of the Refoundation Commies and the smaller Italian Commies polled slightly better than the Sinistra e libertà, the “New Left” coalition (Greenies, Socialists, moderate “liberal” Commies). Such was to be expected, but the irony is that both leftie coalitions were formed to surpass the new 4% threshold, and none did. However, if there had been a new Rainbow coalition (the 2008 Rainbow included both the hardline Commies and the New Left), they would have made it. As expected, those small parties which won seats in 2004 due to the old electoral law have been eliminated. These include the fascists, La Destra-Sicilian autonomists/crooks, and the Radicals. The South Tyrolean SVP only held its seat due to an electoral clause which allows these “minority parties” to ally with a party to win a seat. The SVP was the only one of these which was successful in doing so. Two smaller Valdotanian parties (one allied with PdL, the other with IdV) failed to win a seat. In provincial elections held the same days, the right was very successful and of the forty provinces decided by the first round, they had won 26 against 14 for the left. 22 provinces will have a runoff. I might do a post on that if I have time.
Civic Union 24.33% winning 2 seats (+2)
Harmony Centre 19.57% winning 2 seats (+2)
PCTVL – For Human Rights in United Latvia 9.66% winning 1 seat (nc)
Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way 7.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK 7.45% winning 1 seat (-3)
New Era 6.66% winning 1 seat (-1)
Latvian politics are very confusing, mostly due to the huge swings. This time was no different. A new party, Civic Union (probably EPP) topped the poll over the Harmony Centre, a Russian minority outfit. The PCTVL, another Russian outfit, fell slightly compared to its 11% result in 2004, but remained remarkably stable. TB/LNNK, a UEN party which topped the poll in 2004 fell down three seats. The conservative New Era, senior party in the governing coalition, won only 7% (a lot of its members, along with TB/LNNK members apparently joined the Civic Union). The People’s Party, the senior party in the old coalition which fell apart this year due to the economic crisis won barely 2%. The Union of Greens and Farmers, which won something like 16% in the 2006 election polled a mere 3.7%.
Homeland Union-LKD 26.16% winning 4 seats (+2)
Lithuanian Social Democrats 18.12% winning 3 seats (+1)
Order and Justice 11.9% winning 2 seats (+1)
Labour Party 8.56% winning 1 seat (-4)
Poles’ Electoral Action 8.21% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberals Movement 7.17% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal and Centre Union 3.38% winning 0 seats (-1)
Remarkable stability for a Baltic nation in Lithuania. The winner of the 2008 election, the Homeland Union (TS-LKD) won a rather convincing victory, improving on its 2008 result (only 19.6%) and obviously on its 2004 Euro result (12.6%). The LSDP has picked up an extra seat and has cemented its place as the opposition to the TS-LKD, along with the third-placed populist Order and Justice. Labour, the centrist party which won the 2004 Euro election has seen its seat share cut down from 5 to one, a logical follow-up to its collapse in 2008. The Poles have probably benefited from low turnout (21%) to motivate their base and won an outstanding 8.2% and elected one MEP. I don’t really follow Baltic politics, but if I remember correctly, a government rarely wins re-election, so if that’s true, the result of the TS-LKD is even more remarkable.
Christian Social Party 31.3% (-5.8%) winning 3 seats
Socialist 19.5% (-2.5%) winning 1 seat
Democratic Party 18.6% (+3.7%) winning 1 seat
The Greens 16.8% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat
Alternative Democratic Reform 7.4% (-0.6%)
The Left 3.4% (+1.7%)
Communist Party 1.5% (+0.3%)
Citizens’ List 1.4%
Remarkable and unsurprising political stability in Luxembourg, with no changes in seat distribution. While the CSV and LSAP suffer minor swings against them, the DP and Greens get small positive swings. The Greens’ result is their best ever and one of the best Green results in European elections.
On election night last week, I also covered the simultaneous general election. Here are, again, the full results.
CSV 38% (+1.9%) winning 26 seats (+2)
LSAP 21.6% (-1.8%) winning 13 seats (-1)
DP 15% (-1.1%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Greens 11.7% (+0.1%) winning 7 seats (nc)
ADR 8.1% (-1.8%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Left 3.3% (+1.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
KPL 1.5% (+0.6%)
Labour 54.77% winning 3 seats (nc)
Nationalist 40.49% winning 2 seats (nc)
Obviously no surprise in tiny Malta, where the opposition Labour Party has defeated the governing Nationalist Party. Both sides made gains in terms of votes, feeding off the collapse of the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which won a remarkable 10% in 2004 but a mere 2.3% this year.
Civic Platform 44.43% (+20.33%) winning 25 seats (+10)
Law and Justice 27.4% (+14.73%) winning 15 seats (+8)
Democratic Left Alliance-Labour Union 12.34% (+2.99%) winning 7 seats (+2)
Peasant Party 7.07% (+0.67%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Map by electoral constituency. Key same as above table
Polish politics move quickly, but it seems that this ‘setup’ is here to stay, atleast for some time. The governing right-liberal pro-European Civic Platform (led by PM Donald Tusk) has won a crushing victory over the national-conservative eurosceptic Law and Justice of President Lech Kaczyński. PO’s margin of victory is slightly larger than its already important victory in the 2008 elections. The SLD-UP electoral alliance, which is what remains of the Left and Democrats (LiD) coalition of the 2008 election (encompassing SLD-UP but also a small fake liberal party), won 12%, the average result of the Polish left these days. The Peasant Party, PO’s junior partner in government, won slightly fewer votes than in 2008 (or the 2004 Eur0s). The 2004 Euros, marked by the excellent result of the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR, now Libertas) and the left-wing populist Samoobrona saw both of these parties collapse. Libertas-LPR won 1.14% and Samoobrona won 1.46%. Smaller ultra-conservative jokes also did very poorly. After the 2004-2006 episode, sanity seems to have returned to Polish politics.
Social Democratic Party 31.7% winning 8 seats (+1)
Socialist Party 26.6% winning 7 seats (-5)
Left Bloc 10.7% winning 3 seats (+2)
CDU: Communist Party-Greens 10.7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party 8.4% winning 2 seats (nc)
Blue: PSD, Red: PS, Green: CDU (PCP-PEV)
Cold shower for the governing Portuguese Socialists after the huge victory of the 2004 Euros. The centre-right PSD has won a major victory by defeating the PS, albeit a relatively small margin between the two. The lost votes of the PS flowed to the Left Bloc (the Trotskyst and more libertarian component of the far-left) and the CDU (the older and more old-style communist component of the far-left), both of which won a remarkable 21.4% together. These voters voted BE or CDU due to the PS’ economic policies, which are far from traditional left-wing economic policies. The PS will need to fight hard, very hard, to win the upcoming general elections in September.
Social Democratic Party+Conservative Party 31.07% winning 11 seats (+1)
Democratic Liberal Party 29.71% winning 10 seats (-6)
National Liberal Party 14.52% winning 5 seats (-1)
UDMR 8.92% winning 3 seats (+1)
Greater Romania Party 8.65% winning 3 seats (+3)
Elena Băsescu (Ind PD-L) 4.22% winning 1 seat (+1)
The close race in Romania between the two government parties ended in the victory of the junior partner, the PSD with a rather mediocre 31%. The PDL’s 30% was also rather mediocre. The PNL also did quite poorly. The two winners are the Hungarian UDMR, which won a rather remarkable 9%, probably benefiting from high Hungarian turnout in a very low turnout election. The far-right Greater Romania Party overcame past setbacks and won three seats and a surprisingly good 8.7%. This is due in part to the participation of the far-right quasi-fascist PNG-CD on its list (the party’s leader, the very controversial Gigi Becali, was the party’s second candidate on the list). László Tőkés, an Hungarian independent elected in 2007 (sat in the Green-EFA group) has been re-elected as the top candidate on the UDMR list.
Smer-SD 32.01% winning 5 seats (+2)
Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) 16.98% winning 2 seats (-1)
Party of the Hungarian Coalition 11.33% winning 2 seats (±0)
Christian Democratic Movement 10.87% winning 2 seats (-1)
People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS) 8.97% winning 1 seat (-2)
Slovak National Party 5.55% winning 1 seat (+1)
Smer’s result is definitely deceiving for them and possibly a sign that their past stellar poll ratings will slide to the benefit of the opposition SDKÚ-DS. However, the SDKÚ-DS (but also the KDH and obviously the ĽS-HZDS) have slid back compared to their 2004 Euro results. While the collapse of the ĽS-HZDS (formerly led by former quasi-dictator Vladimír Mečiar) is good news, the entry of the quasi-fascist Slovak National Party, Smer’s charming coalition partners, is not. However, the SNS’ 5.6% is not the 10% it used to poll and hopefully they stay low.
Slovenian Democratic Party 26.89% winning 2 seats (nc)
Social Democrats 18.48% winning 2 seats (+1)
New Slovenia 16.34% winning 1 seat (-1)
Liberal Democracy 11.52% winning 1 seat (-1)
Zares 9.81% winning 1 seat (+1)
In Slovenia, the oppostion centre-right SDS has defeated the ruling Social Democrats. Here again, the current political setup between SDS on the right and SD on the left, a rather new setup, seems set to stay for a few years. The NSi, which won the 2004 election, and the LDS, which used to dominate Slovenian politics, have both slumped back. The new liberal Zares won 9.8%, roughly its level in the 2008 election.
People’s Party42.23% (+1.02%) winning 23 seats (-1)
Socialist 38.51% (-4.95%) winning 21 seats (-4)
Coalition for Europe (EAJ-CiU-CC) 5.12% (-0.03%) winning 2 seats [1 EAJ, 1 CiU] (±0)
The Left 3.73% (-0.38%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Union, Progress and Democracy 2.87% winning 1 seat (+1)
Europe of Peoples 2.5% (+0.05%) winning 1 seat (±0)
As expected, the conservative PP defeated the governing PSOE, but due to the polarized nature of Spanish politics, no landslide here. However, the PSOE definitely polled poorly, though the PP didn’t do that great either. The regionalists held their ground well, and CiU got some little gains going in Catalonia. Aside from UPyD’s narrow entry and the obvious PP gains, it was generally status-quo.
Social Democrats 24.41% (-0.15%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Moderate Party 18.83% (+0.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Liberal People’s Party 13.58% (+3.72%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Greens 11.02% (+5.06%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirate Party 7.13% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Left 5.66% (-7.14%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Centre 5.47% (-0.79%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Christian Democrats 4.68% (-1.01%) winning 1 seat (nc)
June List 3.55% (-10.92%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Sweden Democrats 3.27% (+2.14%)
Feminist Initiative 2.22%
First map: Parties (SD in red, M in blue) – Second Map: Coalitions (Red-Green in red, Alliance in blue)
The Swedish results must come as a major deception for both major parties, the Social Democrats and the governing Moderates. Both had done horribly in 2004 and the 2009 results are no improvements for either of them. In fact, the opposition SD has in fact dropped a few votes more from the 2004 disaster. These loses profit to the smaller parties in their respective coalitions (Red-Green for the SD, Alliance for M). The Liberals did very well, unexpectedly well in fact, and elected a third MEP. The Greens drew votes from Red-Green voters dissatisfied by the unpopular SD leader, Mona Sahlin, and its vote share increased by 5%. Of course, Sweden is now famous for electing one Pirate MEP, and even a second MEP if Sweden gets additional MEPs as planned by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Left’s vote fell significantly from its good showing in 2004, while the vote for smaller coalition parties – the Centre and Christian Democrats also slid a bit. The eurosceptic June List, which had won 14% in 2004, fell to a mere 3.6% and lost its 3 MEPs. However, this result might have prevented the far-right Sweden Democrats from picking up a seat. The Feminists, who had one MEP after a Liberal defection, won a surprisingly decent 2%, far better than what polls had in store for them. In terms of coalitions, the governing Alliance actually won with 42.56% against 41.09% for the opposition Red-Greens.
Longer, special posts concerning the Euro elections in Belgium, France and the UK will be posted in the coming days.