Sweden towards yet another hung parliament: it’s all about the kingmaker

Sweden towards yet another hung parliament: it’s all about the kingmaker

On 9 September, Swedes cast their ballots in this year’s general elections. Governed by rather weak minority coalitions for the past two terms, there is little to suggest that the four years to come will be much different. Unless old coalitions are dissolved and new ones built, that is. The likelihood of such a scenario ultimately depends on how far the ruling centre-left and the centre-right opposition parties are willing to go to deprive the Sweden Democrats (SD) of their current casting vote in parliament. No matter the outcome, the former pariah of Swedish politics will certainly not be left without a say.

Strong minority governments as yesterday’s norm

After the 2010 general elections brought an end to Sweden’s first majority government in almost three decades, two relatively weak minority governments have followed. Minority rule is not a new phenomenon in Sweden. Rather the opposite: only eight out of the past century’s 37 governments have held a majority. Yet, minority rule has rarely hampered effective governance. Instead, a willingness to find broad, cross-party agreements on key policy issues has permeated Swedish politics, allowing most minority governments to govern, without any tangible fears of being hogtied or ousted.   

Weak minority governments as today’s norm: the role of the Sweden Democrats

The governability of Swedish minority governments has certainly seen better days, though. The 2010 entry of anti-immigration SD into national politics rewrote the country’s political landscape. From 5.7% in 2010 to 12.9% four years later, to around 20% in recent polls, its influence is mounting. And with that its kingmaking ability and ambition.

On 3 December 2014, SD brought Sweden to the brink of political crisis. By voting in favour of the opposition’s budget proposal, rather than abstaining after its own proposal had fallen, the party abandoned a long-lasting practice, thereby killing off the newly elected centre-left government’s budget. The prospect of the country’s first snap vote since 1958 compelled all parties but SD and the Left Party (V) to strike a deal that guaranteed the governability of the country’s biggest political bloc. This so-called “December Agreement” imploded nine months later, when the Christian Democrats (KD) pulled out.   

The deal’s intention to curb SD’s influence had the opposite effect, with the party gaining seven percentage points between the 2014 elections and November 2015. Yet, this remarkable rise was also a consequence of its tough stance on immigration – voters’ second most prioritised topic (in Swedish) – ahead of and during Sweden’s unprecedented influx of asylum seekers in 2015. And although PM Stefan Löfven’s government and the centre-right bloc have since agreed on more restrictive immigration policies, the party remains voters’ preferred choice on immigration issues.

For that reason, the party has cemented its  position as the country’s third-largest. In the May 2018 edition of Statistics Sweden’s biannual Political Party Preference Survey, by many deemed “the mother of all polls”, SD increased its support by 3.7 points, to 18.5%, from November 2017. Closing in on the Social Democratic (S, 28.3%) and the Moderate Party (M, 22.6%), other polls even place them second.  

Scenarios: What could be tomorrow’s norm?

Status quo

Unthinkable a few years back, it is now indeed a realistic possibility for SD to become the country’s biggest party. And one can be almost certain that no bloc will walk away with a majority on 9 September. As things stand, the ruling centre-left coalition would obtain 40% of the vote, whereas the centre-right Alliance (excluding KD, which would fall short of the 4% threshold) would poll 35.7%. Should that be the case on election day, it is almost certain that SD would join forces with the centre-right in voting down PM Löfven in the subsequent approval vote in parliament.

Should PM Löfven nevertheless remain in power, it is highly likely that he would have a harder time running the country than his centre-right adversaries. Because even if SD has tended to vote with the government in office, lately the party has backed the centre-right (in Swedish), blaming the current administration’s perceived leftward turn.

Giving in

Similarly, SD has expressed its approval of the tougher immigration stance of M and KD. Aspiring PM Ulf Kristersson (M) recently implied that SD might be invited to future cross-party migration talks. Should the four Alliance parties win the elections but fail to form a government, it is a realistic possibility that SD becomes an affiliate to a M/KD government.

According to recent polls, the three parties would nevertheless not gain a majority. And since it is almost certain that they would not have the support of the immigration-friendly Centre Party (C), they would have a hard time passing key policies, including the budget.

Should KD fail to reach the 4% threshold, it is a realistic possibility that  M would opt for a one-party government? That would certainly allow the party to strike deals with SD, without upsetting C and the Liberal Party (L), who both have ruled out any formal cooperation with SD. This option would give M a (affiliation-based) majority. Yet, it is probable that such an indirect affiliation with SD would be a little too much for to digest for M’s hitherto liberal allies.  

New coalitions

In fact, some deem a S/C/L coalition government a viable option (in Swedish). Such a coalition would however only be able to count on majority support if current government member the Green Party (currently on 4.3%) makes the 4% threshold. And even though it is not the first to come to mind, a S/M German-style “Grand Coalition” would probably be the most effective in depriving SD of its casting vote (in Swedish).

Irrespective of the constellation, Sweden will highly likely be governed by yet another relatively weak minority coalition. The reason for that is that it is almost   certain that SD will continue to point out the direction the other parties must take and the concessions they must make to keep the kingmaker of Swedish politics away from its throne. Because when it comes to Sweden’s immigration policy, SD is not up for a compromise. Rather, the party is already shaping it, and will continue doing so.  

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Filip Haugland

Filip is an International Relations Desk Officer at the Swedish Armed Forces HQ. In this capacity, he has managed the Armed Forces’ Security Sector Reform (SSR) programme and been responsible for the relations with the EU, the OSCE and some twenty European and African countries. Prior to this, he was a Foreign and EU Affairs Adviser in the European and the Swedish Parliament, a Brussels-based EU Affairs Consultant and a freelance Political Risk Analyst. Filip holds an MA with Distinction in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford in the UK and a BSc in Political Science from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. In the course of his studies, Filip worked in Angola and Sudan. The views expressed on this site are Mr Haugland’s own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.