Swedish parties face tough bargaining

RELIEF::The currency bounced back as it emerged that the right-wing Sweden Democrats got fewer votes than predicted, but forming a majority government could prove difficult

Reuters, STOCKHOLM

Tue, Sep 11, 2018 - Page 7

Sweden faced weeks of uncertainty after its mainstream center-left and center-right blocs emerged in a dead heat from an general election on Sunday, while the far-right — which neither wants to deal with — made gains on an anti-immigrant platform.

With nearly all votes counted yesterday, the ruling center-left Social Democrats and Greens, and their Left Party parliamentary ally had 40.6 percent of the vote, while the opposition center-right Alliance was on 40.3 percent.

The Sweden Democrats, a party with white supremacist roots, came in third, with 17.6 percent, about 5 percentage points more than four years ago. The result was largely in line with the conventional opinion polls, but below the figure of more than 20 percent that some surveys predicted.

“Most pointed towards the Sweden Democrats taking over the position as the second-biggest party in Sweden, but the expected ... bang did not happen,” the liberal Expressen daily said in an op-ed piece.

“We need to be sincerely grateful for that. Sweden is now on steadier grounds than what we could have feared before the election,” the newspaper said.

However, while there was a sense of relief among supporters of mainstream parties about the Sweden Democrats’ more limited than expected gains, the election underscored a broader shift to the right in one of Europe’s most socially progressive nations.

ANXIETY

Their success follows a rise in popularity for other far-right parties in Europe amid growing anxiety over national identity, the effects of globalization, and fears over immigration boosted partly by conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Sweden has portrayed itself as a “humanitarian superpower” for years, but a rise in gang violence in areas of high unemployment has won support for the Sweden Democrats.

After the arrival of 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015 — the most in Europe in relation to the country’s population of 10 million — the center-left government suspended some of its liberal asylum policies.

Senior figures in the mainstream parties were expected to meet later yesterday to begin producing a strategy for forming a government, but the process could take weeks and possibly fail, with the Sweden Democrats vowing to sink any cabinet that does not give them a say in policy.

“We will gain huge influence over what happens in Sweden during the coming weeks, months and years,” Sweden Democrats party leader Jimmie Akesson told supporters on Sunday night.

CHOICE

Akesson hopes his party, which wants Sweden to leave the EU and freeze immigration, can play a decisive role in negotiations to form a government.

He called on Alliance premiership candidate Ulf Kristersson to choose between seeking support from the Sweden Democrats for an Alliance government or to accept another four years of Social Democrat Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

Kristersson called on Lofven to resign, but rebuffed Akesson.

“We have been completely clear during the whole election. The Alliance will not govern or discuss how to form a government with the Sweden Democrats,” he said.

A new election will be called if parliament does not agree on a prime minister after four attempts.

The Swedish kronor strengthened against the euro over the weekend, trading at 10.45 kronor at 9:30am GMT against a last quote on Friday of 10.49 kronor, following the Sweden Democrats smaller than expected gains.