The Swedish election is, at the moment of writing, simultaneously one of the most interesting, exciting and unprecedented events happening and one of the most boring and sluggish. A lot is happening, but it is a lot of nothing so far. Indeed, unprecedented levels of nothing. Adam Snygg brings us up to speed.
This is the current situation: Sweden had an election a little more than a month ago where no party managed to get even close to a mandate to form a government and, what’s potentially worse, no prior coalition got a majority either. This was not entirely unexpected. Most people who paid attention to politics, like yours truly, were aware that this would happen and some discussions on how to alleviate this took place, but crucially they did not amount to much. At the moment there are three big coalitions: the Red-Greens, social democrats, socialists and greens, the Alliance for Sweden consisting of four parties of different levels between conservative and liberal, as well as the “coalition” of a single party, the far right Sweden Democrats.
When I’m done, I’m done!
Probably the most exciting thing in this election was the play around the incumbent prime minister Stefan Löfven. Historically a prime minister that does not accrue 50% of the votes in an election steps down in Sweden, but Löfven decided not to, citing that he headed the largest coalition.
Interpretation becomes important here, because never before has the largest coalition not also had the support of more than 50% of the Riksdag. The left claims that the largest coalition should be supported in their work of creating or, in this case, retaining a government, while the right claims that a prime minister still needs more than half their votes to sit, otherwise they might be voted out. To prove their side, the Alliance and the SD promptly voted Stefan Löfven out of office in what was almost entirely a symbolical act, since until a government is agreed upon Löfven will continue to act as Prime minister.
Here perhaps you can see what I mean with both interesting and boring; several unprecedented acts contingent on a tight reading of tradition and election law that ended up amounting to no actual change.
Who’s in charge?
A second unprecedented act happened shortly after this or technically, shortly before but it took effect shortly after: the election of a Speaker of the Riksdag who was not from the largest party. In what is a large break from tradition and praxis, the Moderate party, the largest opposition party and leader of the Alliance, decided to make the position of Speaker political after the position having been seen as unpolitical since its institution. This is easy to see as a part of the increasing polarisation in Swedish politics. The Party of the Left, seeing that praxis already had been broken, refused to vote for a member of the far-right Sweden Democrats as the third vice Speaker, a position traditionally held by the third largest party. With support from the rest of the Red-Greens and the tacit support of the two Liberal parties, they managed to instead vote in a member of their party.
Perhaps the most important effect of the vote for the Speaker was that the new conservative Speaker of the Riksdag gave the first opportunity to try to form a government not to the largest coalition, the Red-Greens, but instead to the Alliance, his coalition. There was some grumbling about this from the left, but perhaps more fear and apprehension about what the Moderates would do. The Moderates and the Christian Democrats had before the election stated that they would like to rule in coalition with the Sweden Democrats or at least accept their support in return for unspecified favours later. Thankfully for all involved, the two liberal parties refused to support the Moderates if they accepted support from the SD. After fruitlessly trying to get either the Social Democrats who are the largest party on the Riksdag in head of the largest coalition, mind you, to support them or creating a grand coalition, Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the Moderates and the Alliance, admitted defeat.
Let’s make this work?
The day after that Stefan Löfven of the Social Democrats, the incumbent prime minister, was given the mission to try to form a government. After two weeks of complete silence the Social Democrats made a statement that the discussions had been positive and that they had “limited success” but hadn’t reached any agreements. They propositioned the Speaker to be allowed two weeks more to continue to try to form a government, but were refused.
Instead the Speaker decided that a first round of voting on prime minister will start within a couple of weeks with, once again surprisingly, the Moderate party leader Kristersson as the person being voted on rather than the incumbent Prime minister, leader of the largest coalition. This most likely will lead to another first in Swedish history: a prime minister candidate will be voted down in the Riksdag. No positions have been changed, so this most looking like this will result in a defeat, possibly a rather humiliating one.
Show me the money
These events also lead us into the last of the unprecedented matters: the time for a budget is fast approaching and for the first time ever Sweden does not have a formed government to achieve this. Therefore the interim government, still headed by Stefan Löfven, will have to make a coalition budget that all sides see as unproblematic and simple. An unprecedentedly boring budget if you will.
The threat of a new election looms, but even that will likely not solve any problems and might even create new ones. Most post-election polls agree that the differences in support would be negligible, a percentile or two more for the Red-Greens and a percentile or two less for the Alliance. Swedish politicians will have to be more prone to compromise than they are now to achieve something.
Otherwise, Sweden will perhaps beat Belgium’s record – a record of doing nothing in a most spectacular way.