Could the far right leave Sweden ungovernable after the election?

The political deadlock caused in Germany by the rise of the far-right AfD has shown that populism's impact on European politics is not going away. In Sweden, where the 2014 election saw a surge in support for anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) that almost provoked the collapse of the newly-elected government, eyes are starting to turn towards the next Riksdag election on the horizon.
SD's support has increased in the polls since the 2014 vote, and in June of this year they were even performing better than the Moderates – traditionally one of Sweden's two biggest parties. Could it therefore be possible that the 2018 Riksdag election produces a scenario where, with their votes weakened by an SD surge, none of Sweden's traditional major blocs are able to form a government? The Local asked political experts to analyse the situation.


Posters in Hoyerswerda, Germany, for the nationalist AfD. Photo: Jens Meyer/AP
SD will get more votes than before, but could still be frozen out
Mid Sweden University political scientist Niklas Bolin, who specializes in right-wing populist parties, thinks SD will improve upon their 12.86 percent of the vote from the 2014 Riksdag election.
"I would be very surprised if they don't improve compared to 2014. On the other hand it's not certain that they could be Sweden's biggest or second-biggest party as some opinion polls showed during the current mandate period," he told The Local.

In his opinion an improvement within a certain margin isn't necessarily important however, as long as the other major parties refuse to cooperate with SD, as has been the case throughout the current Riksdag mandate.
"In a sense SD's support isn't much of a difference-maker. Whether they get 15 or 20 percent isn't really the key as long as the other parties don't plan on cooperating with them. On the other hand, those voters (and who they decide to vote for) are important in the sense that they could decide whether the Alliance parties collectively end up bigger than the Red-Green (Social Democrat-Green Party) bloc."
The Moderates have been the biggest victim of SD's surge in recent years, losing voters disenfranchised about issues like immigration to the rival party. Recent opinion polls suggest however the Moderates are starting to claw that ground back since bringing Ulf Kristersson in as their new leader: for two months in a row they have placed as Sweden's second-largest party behind the Social Democrats in Dagens Nyheter's polls, while at the same time SD have dropped.

Could the change in Moderate leadership be a key factor in avoiding a political deadlock in Sweden come this time next year, therefore?
"Traditionally the party leadership is subordinate to other factors. At the same time it's of course the case that the party leader can have a significance on the margins, above all when the election is very close. It's also clear that confidence in (previous Moderate leader) Anna Kinberg Batra was very low, and the change to Kristersson has, at least temporarily, restored Moderate confidence. It remains to be seen if that's a long-term effect," Bolin concluded.


Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
SD will be in a position to influence other parties, the question is how
Andreas Johansson Heino, a political scientist with centre-right think tank Timbro, believes the question isn't necessarily whether SD will have an impact on the decision-makers after the election, but how.
"If the Moderates end up a lot bigger than SD then the conditions are evidently much better for using SD as just passive support. If SD on the other hand end up as big as the Moderates, which was the case in several polls in the spring and summer, then SD would have a completely different potential to apply pressure," he explained to The Local.
And even if there have been positive signs for the Moderates as of late, they are still well below previous standards from the years in which they governed:
"So far the Moderates have won back the voters they lost after the election, but are still well below their performance in the 2006 and 2010 elections."

While he emphasized that polls may also not reflect the true strength of the SD vote, the political scientist did point out that the party no longer stands alone on its core issue of immigration.
"SD is still polling above their results from 2014 and we also don't know if the polls are underestimating them. Dropping compared to 2015-16 is a natural consequence of immigration issues no longer being the single focus, and that the party is no longer alone in opposition to immigration, as well as the Moderates moving closer to SD in several issues."

A debate between the leaders of Sweden's Riksdag parties in October. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT
Sweden's comfort with minority governments sets it apart from Germany
While the next Swedish election could see the major blocs struggle to produce a majority, Uppsala University political scientist Li Bennich-Björkman noted that there is little chance of a political stalemate like Germany due to the Nordic nation's history of successful minority government.
"Sweden unlike Germany is accustomed to minority governments who are allowed to look for support in different issues from other parties in the Riksdag, which Germany doesn't have at all."
"The 2010-2014 Alliance government had that situation, and many Social Democrat governments have too. When the Alliance candidacy strengthens again, it will have a serious chance of governing. The Red-Green option is considerably less clear: a government with the Green Party is barely on the agenda, and the Social Democrats must in that case look for support among the Liberals for example, which could be difficult," she added.
Bennich-Björkman thinks the recent change in Moderate leadership was an important shift in the political landscape ahead of the election.
"The Moderates now have wind in their sails – a lot of wind in a short time. Kristersson is an unusually passionate politician, and right for them right now, who need the kind of social warmth he emits. The party's role as leader in the Alliance is once again unchallenged, and the clarity he has expressed when it comes to Alliance cooperation, and avoiding getting closer to SD is important."
She stressed however that much could change with around 10 months still to go until the election.
"SD has lost votes to the Moderates since Kristersson became leader, that's clear. On the other hand with almost a year left until the vote it's not possible to say anything about the consequences of that. There could well be potential SD voters who aren't making themselves known today. That said, the party's upward climb has been disrupted, and that's also an important signal to voters."

Sweden is currently governed by a Socil Democrat-Green minority. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
Moderate success may be temporary and SD could still end up stronger
"Everything is possible, including that SD's current performance in the polls is a temporary dip," Linné University political scientist Magnus Hagevi observed.
"The movement of voters who abandoned the Moderates and now support SD is uncertain. We don't know how many of them are willing to switch back. If those voters are faithful to SD, then any Moderate progress will primarily be about winning votes from other centre-right parties, which wouldn't impact their chances of changing the government to such a big degree. If it's proven that SD voters are willing to change part however, that's very important when it comes to the power to govern."
Hagevi also feels Sweden's habit of minority governments will likely avoid a situation like the one in Germany:
"Nordic politics has a greater acceptance of minority governments, so that could mean Swedish politics doesn't follow Germany footsteps. But even then, it has to be tolerated by the rest of the Riksdag."
Could the far right leave Sweden ungovernable after the election? Could the far right leave Sweden ungovernable after the election? Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 06:58:00 Rating: 5