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To End Stalemate, Will Sweden Include Far-Right Party in Government?

STOCKHOLM — Two questions dominate Swedish politics after elections this month yielded a stalemate: Who will violate a campaign pledge? And will it result, for the first time, in a government that has support from a nationalist party with neo-Nazi roots?

Just one seat separates the governing coalition of the left from the center-right coalition that is the main opposition — but each fell far short of a majority. Both blocs have sworn not to make a deal with the Sweden Democrats, the right-wing, anti-immigration party that now controls enough seats to play kingmaker.

“The bourgeois and left-wing blocs are playing a game of chicken right now,” said Lars Tragardh, a history professor at Ersta Skondal Bracke University College.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven hopes to form a new government by luring smaller parties away from the center-right alliance, but they say they are still committed to their coalition. The two blocs could form a “grand coalition,” but so far, they are not talking. The center-right group has demanded that Mr. Lofven resign, but he has not budged.

There is no easy way forward, and what will happen when the new Parliament convenes next week has become the subject of an intense guessing game.

“One of these two bigger blocs will have to blink and say we are prepared to support a person that we said ‘no way’ to,” said Torbjorn Larsson, a political-science professor at Stockholm University. “It’s problematic for everyone except for the Sweden Democrats. They have never been so close to power as they are today.”

An obvious solution would be for the center-right alliance to get the support of the Sweden Democrats, he said, “but that means negotiating with the Sweden Democrats, and they have vowed not to.” Analysts say it is very unlikely that the Sweden Democrats would be included in a government, but one could be formed with their tacit support.

The coalition of leftist and environmental parties, known as the red-green alliance, won 144 of 349 seats in Parliament, while the center-right alliance, led by Ulf Kristersson of the Moderates, won 143.

In an election with record-high turnout of 87 percent, the two largest parties, the opposition Moderates and Mr. Lofven’s Social Democrats, both lost ground, while smaller parties gained. The Social Democrats won the largest share of the vote, 28 percent, and the largest number of seats, 100, but it was their worst showing ever.

The results in Sweden follow a pattern seen across much of Europe in recent years, as people have grown dissatisfied with the political establishment and turned to insurgent parties — often nationalist, populist and anti-immigrant.

The biggest winners were the Sweden Democrats, who won 62 seats.

A bloc does not need majority support in Parliament to form a government; instead, it needs only to avoid a majority vote against it. Opposition parties can allow their adversaries to form minority governments simply by abstaining — often after extracting concessions.

After Parliament convenes next week, it will vote on whether to allow Mr. Lofven to form a new government and remain as prime minister. If a majority vote against him, negotiations will begin to find an alternative candidate. There can be as many as four votes; new elections must be called if a majority rejects the contender every time.

Several countries have formed left-right grand coalitions — Germany has had one since 2013, in part to keep a far-right party out of power — but such unions are often awkward. Sweden has a history of cooperation across ideological and partisan lines on policy issues like pensions and defense, but the blocs have long resisted forming a government together.

Sweden has welcomed more refugees from Syria and other countries in conflict than any other country in Europe, relative to its population. In 2015, at the height of the migration crisis, 163,000 refugees entered the country.

As discontent over the issue mounted, the red-green government lurched to the right on the issue, so the Sweden Democrats no longer seem like such outliers.

“Sixty-six percent of the Parliament stands for a more stringent migration policy,” said P.M. Nilsson, political editor at the liberal newspaper Dagens Industri. In fact, he said, much of the Sweden Democrats’ platform “is classic bourgeois politics.”

Mr. Larsson said: “The right bloc and the Sweden Democrats are in agreement on taxes, labor market, crime and defense. That means there’s a majority. Can they find an arrangement that gives these Swedish Democrats some sort of in?”

Understanding why the party seems radioactive means looking at its origins.

The Sweden Democrats, founded in 1988, grew from southern Swedish protest parties with ties to neo-Nazis and a racist movement called Bevara Sverige Svenskt (“Keep Sweden Swedish”).

They wanted to prohibit adoption from outside Europe and repatriate all immigrants who had arrived since the 1970s, Mr. Nilsson said, adding, “They didn’t want dark-skinned people in Sweden.”

The party started to sanitize its image in the mid-1990s, banning Nazi-inspired uniforms at meetings. The most radical nationalist elements were given the boot, and the more moderate faction became more or less like the rest of Europe’s radical right, Mr. Nilsson said.

Seven years ago, the party leadership rewrote its program, doing away with the repatriation plank in its platform. When the party’s youth group protested, it was also given the heave-ho.

Today, Sweden Democrats present themselves as the protectors of the Swedish “folkhem,” a concept connoting a society in which people take care of one another and is almost synonymous with the Social Democratic party.

But the Sweden Democrats differ from right-wing, nationalist parties elsewhere in Western Europe in growing out of a culture with “clearly biological racist ideas,” said Anders Ravik Jupskas, director of the Oslo based Center for Research on Extremism.

Their counterparts in other countries may be hostile to immigration, he said, but they originally emphasized issues like cutting taxes and regional autonomy.

The Sweden Democrats have also struggled with the behavior of their members; time and again, party officials have resigned or been expelled, often after making racist comments. In June, SVT, the Swedish public television network, reported that one-fifth of the party’s candidates for municipal offices had criminal records — double the proportion for the party with the next-highest rate.

“You have this image of the Sweden Democrats as racist neo-Nazis prone to violence and thuglike behavior,” Mr. Tragardh said.

This kind of behavior keeps coming back, said Mr. Nilsson, the political editor, and feeds the suspicion that the party’s more mainstream recent image is just a veneer.

“At the party’s congress this spring someone came up and started to discuss whether Muslims should have human rights,” he said. “That person was also excluded right away. But it’s typical that in SD this should happen.”

To win the support of the Sweden Democrats, one of their leaders, Mattias Karlsson, told Swedish public service broadcaster Sveriges Radio on Saturday, will require reform on four issues: stricter migration policy, shorter lines for medical treatment, a tougher stance on crime, and more support for “poor pensioners” who can’t get by on their retirement.

“We have two blocs that don’t want to work with us,” he said. “Either they have to build a monster cartel or they have to step out of the sandbox and include us in the discussions on the issues.”

Source: NYT > World

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