Featured image courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riksdag.ipred_b9dn510_4451.jpg
As became clear after the second failure to reach a majority government in a parliamentary vote last month, the Swedish Riksdag has seen better days. Millions of Swedes both home and abroad voted as a part of the general election on the 9th September; yet despite optimism for renewed strength and consensus in government, the electorate’s support was narrowly split between the centre left Social Democrats, the moderate right Alliance, and the radical populist Swedish Democrats. This resulted in a parliamentary deadlock, in which all three major coalitions, gaining 144, 143, and 62 seats respectively, fall short of the 175 seat mark required to form a majority government.
Such a divisive result will mean that Sweden’s political parties will once again be stumbling to make alliances quickly, many of which will challenge political convictions and force compromise across faction lines. And with the ousting of the Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in a vote of no confidence on the 25th September, the stakes are ever higher.
One concern for some international observers is the growing popularity of the relatively young Swedish Democrats, headed by Jimmie Ǻkesson. The controversial party promotes a social conservative agenda with an emphasis on nationalism and seeks to reduce the influx of immigrants to Sweden as a key policy initiative. For a society that historically has practiced open borders and has become a new home for Syrian refugees to escape from the civil war, the gaining popularity of anti-immigration rhetoric is worrying; xenophobic sentiments and arguments over the lack of integration threaten the existence of many simply because they were not born Swedish. In a parliament with only 11.5% of representatives having a foreign background, the prospect of a culturally homogenous Sweden is a serious possibility.
Negotiating and forming new coalitions will be no easy task however, as the Social Democrats refuse to back a centre-right minority government, and both the Social Democrats and the Alliance refuse to form a government alongside Ǻkesson’s radical Swedish Democrats. Moreover, the pressure on parliament to form a cohesive government is exacerbated under the constitutional law ruling only four attempts to produce results are allowed; if all four proposed governments are unsuccessful, Sweden will make history as it holds its first ever do-over election.
There might be a light to the end of the parliamentary deadlock tunnel however, as it was announced this week that the centre-right Alliance party and the Greens negotiated a coalition for the governance of Stockholm’s city council. Although such a pairing is only currently present at a municipal level, it indicates Sweden’s reluctance to allow Ǻkesson’s party to gain influence in the capital.
Yet, the Swedish Democrats remain as persistent as ever, even offering to have their leader resign if it means joining forces with the apprehensive Moderate party. Such a move would see the formation of a right-leaning government in a traditionally leftist country, illustrating the influence of a rising trend in populist parties across Europe in the last decade. In Italy, an unlikely coalition between the nationalist League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement was formed this past summer, and in Austria the right-wing Freedom Party currently holds 26% percent of the public vote.
Populism in Europe is by no means new, but the current Swedish political climate indicates how fears surrounding globalisation and the refugee crisis has resulted in the rising popularity of such politics. For those who once viewed Europe to be the heart of enlightened thought and regional cooperation, events such as Brexit and the fracturing of the European Union have shaken the liberal ideals the continent prides itself on to the core. Instead of states shunning economic and political migrants in a shift to isolationist policies, Western Europe should embrace the incoming flow of cultural diversity and grow into it, rather than operating under the mindset of a pre-globalised world.