Sweden 2022 elections — Islamists, post-communist eco-hipsters, pirates and other less known facts
Recently, I went to my local library to vote. The Swedish general elections usually occur during the second weekend in September and are always on a Sunday. This is in order for the voters to have enough free time to cast their votes. As you can see in the photo, there are three envelopes because in Sweden, with over 85 % voting participation, citizens are expected to vote for their representatives at the national (parliament), regional (regional assembly as for the Stockholm region) and local (municipality assembly) levels.
In this post, my aim was to provide some extra insights and facts compared to what is reported about the elections in Sweden in more common and established media around Europe as in Politico Europe, Financial Times and The Guardian. In the following part of the text, I am taking up points regarding political behaviors, communication and expectations.
1. Liberals and the far-right depend on each other
One of the most unique cases, seen by many Swedes as something absurd and horrible, during the current elections is that the Liberal Party (Liberalerna, ALDE) has decided to cooperate for the creation of a right-wing and conservative government with the Moderate Party (Moderaterna, EPP) and Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, EPP) which also means getting support from the far-right populist and nationalist Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, ECR).
In practice, this means that the Liberal Party needs support from the Sweden Democrats to form a government while a right-wing conservative government cannot be created without the Liberal Party, meaning that Sweden Democrats need the Liberal Party to make their political impact and influence. So far, there is no successful example globally seen of liberals making a governmental success with far-right populists and nationalists.
Liberal Party still presents itself as an ideologically driven party and a proud member of Renew Europe ALDE group in the European Parliament that often presents itself as a fighter against populism and nationalism. At the same time, the Sweden Democrats are an anti-liberal party officially presenting liberalism as one of its main enemies.
2. Swedish public welfare is often better for the middle class than for others
Sweden’s famous and very popular welfare state can be seen as a “holy value” and going to elections with phrases such as “abolish the welfare state” would be political suicide. All political parties in the parliament (Riksdagen) are making promises about how much money they are going to spend and “stake” leading to terms as “valfläsk” (electoral pork — electoral bribing, electoral rewards) being used in public debate to describe how the political parties, and especially the governing Social-Democrats are making promises in order to “buy votes”.
A popular belief is that the welfare state is important for creating a more economically equal and free society. In general, left-wing voters believe that the current welfare state is underfunded and has for many years been undermined by neo-liberal politics and privatization. However, private and public studies show that the current welfare state is larger than ever regarding institutions, policies and resources. Public welfare often ends up being more beneficial for middle-class residents, the largest socioeconomic category.
For example, certain types of benefits as the parental allowance are more used in the upper-class, upper-middle class and middle-class municipalities as Taeby, Vellinge and Danderyd than in “industrial rust-belt areas” as in northern and southern Sweden. In practice, if you are a middle-class high-wage earner it is easier for you to say at home with your child for several months with public benefits, than if you are a low-wage working-class person who needs to work as much as possible in order to get more money.
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3. Post-communist eco-hipsters
Furthermore, when it comes to the middle class in Sweden, the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet, GUE/NGL) is famous for its history of being a communist party with affection for dictatorships as Cuba, China and East Germany during the Cold War era. Since the early 1990s, the party has done several changes in its program, politics and rhetoric by presenting itself as both anti-capitalist and anti-racist, and as democratic and environmentalist.
However, the party still has several problems and controversies such as by having members who are active in networks as Swedish-Cuban society (Svensk-Kubanska föreningen) famous for promoting left-wing dictatorships and authoritarianism, and for the party’s youth wing statements such as “achieving communism and creation of a classless society”.
The party’s leader Nooshi Dadgostar born in 1985 is the youngest party leader in the parliament but often sounds like someone who was a young person during the 1970s and feels nostalgic about a past that never really existed nor is coming back. Dadgostar talks about labor unions and workers, and has made proposals such as “cutting the cables to Europe” by rejecting the European Union’s energy market’s idea to “provide Swedish electricity for climate transformation in Sweden”.
Still, a large number of the party’s members and voters today are not factory and harbor workers but are more or less urban middle-class individuals, including in “hipster areas” as Soedermalm (Södermalm) in Stockholm. Officially, the Left Party has also been presenting itself as a new climate party and thereby attracting voters from the Green Party (Miljöpartiet, Greens/EFA), but when it comes to concrete politics regarding the industry, emissions and welfare spending the Left Party will prioritize economy over climate and environment.
4. The far-right populists are not as popular after all
When Sweden Democrats were created during the end of 1980s, partly as a Neo-Nazi party with a very racist political program and with German nazi-swastika at their meetings, Theodor Kallifatides a journalist from the Swedish public service described the party as “a gang of losers”. Today, many Swedes see Sweden Democrats as winners and kingmakers, going from 5,7 % voting support in 2010 to 17,53 in 2018.
Despite never being in a position to govern Sweden, the party has managed to influence how the conservative parties and the Social Democrats are communicating about “immigration, Islam and identity”. Another area where Sweden Democrats have gained success is regarding crime and punishment, despite that several proposals and statements made by the party would in practice mean abolishing the rule of law in Sweden.
The party has a tendency, as during the 2010s, to speak about itself as the “true” representative of the Swedish people while communicating about other parties as being elitist, anti-people and fake. In reality, Sweden Democrats are the most centralized and top-down managed political party in the Swedish parliament. Also, the party is not even represented in all of Sweden’s 290 municipalities and in many cases, the party does not have enough active and willing members to take seats in municipal assemblies where the party should be represented leading to “the situation of the empty chairs”.
According to research, most of Swedes who vote for the Sweden Democrats think and feel that they do not support nor like the party in general regarding politics and profile. Instead, such voters see the party as a station for “protest voting” towards the Moderate Party and Social Democrats. This means that only a minority of the Sweden Democrat voters can be seen as core voters who support the party in general and in most policies.
5. Undecided and alternative voters, local parties and referendums
It is still common in Sweden that many voters are “undecided” and make their decisions, especially when it comes to the national level elections, on the election day for whom they will vote for. This trend has also become more typical during the last 20 years due to social changes in Swedish society, often seen as among the most individualistic regarding values and lifestyles. One larger political change in Swedish society is that a higher number of voters today are voting for different parties at different levels, compared to for example 1980s when the large majority of Swedish voters would vote for the same party at all levels.
Most voters in Sweden would agree with statements such as that it is important to vote for a political party that is already in the parliament in order to “not throw away your vote” but the case is still that more than 100 000 voters tend to vote for political parties that are outside of the parliament. Such alternative voters are going to vote on parties such as the far-right Alternative for Sweden (Alternativ för Sverige, ), ultra-left progressive Feminist Party (Feministiskt Initiativ, S&D) or alternative Pirate Party (Piratpartiet, Greens/EFA).
For example, in Stockholm (City) municipality, the most populated municipality in Sweden, the Feminist Party has 3 mandates of 101 while in Gothenburg (City), the second largest municipality, a local party Democrats (Demokraterna) has 14 mandates of 81. Democrats have a history of being created in relation to a referendum about traffic tax that was rejected by a majority of voters in Gothenburg but still ignored by the Gothenburg assembly.
One party that is also making headlines at the moment is Shade (Nyans) with Islamist rhetoric and demands for special rights for Muslims in Sweden. The party is not able to enter the parliament but there is research showing that some voters around Sweden are considering voting for the party or having it as a second or third alternative at local elections as in Malmoe.
Despite being one of the oldest democratic nations, Sweden is also famous for having a very low number of referendums. The last national-level referendum was in 2003 when a smaller majority of voters rejected the introduction of the Euro and Sweden joined the European Monetary Union (Eurozone area). While at the local level, referendums are in principle always advisory and there are cases of municipalities where politicians have voted against proposals such as civic/residential initiatives for local referendums. For such and other reasons, it is common in Sweden in several municipalities there are “single-issue” or special focus parties focusing on things such as schools, health care, and ecology.
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