What to know ahead of Sweden’s election

Sweden is holding an election on Sunday to elect legislators to the 349-seat Riksdag as well as to local offices across the nation of 10 million people.

arly voting began on August 24, so many people will have already cast their ballots by election day.

Here are some key things to know about the vote.

– What is at stake?

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is fighting to keep her centre-left Social Democrats at the helm of a left-wing coalition but is facing a strong challenge from the right.

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Swedish political parties’ tents are set up for an election event in Lund (James Brooks/AP)

Sweden is known for being a cradle-to-grave welfare society and Ms Andersson would like to preserve the social protections that have long defined Sweden, and reverse some of the market-oriented changes by an earlier government. Her party feels some of the changes, such as state subsidies going to private schools, are creating greater inequalities.

The once mighty Social Democrats have been in power since 2014. But as the party’s popularity sinks compared with its heyday in the 20th century, it has been forced to preside over a weaker government relying more on other parties to pass laws, a situation which has produced political instability over the past eight years.

– Who is likely to win?

There are two major blocs, with four parties on the left and four on the right. The polls leading up to the election showed the two blocs in a near dead heat, with the outcome impossible to predict.

Under Swedish law, it falls to the party that wins the most seats to form a government. Polls show that this is likely to be Ms Andersson’s party, in which case it would be up to her first to try to form a coalition government with majority support in the legislature.

But if the left as a whole has a poor showing, she might not be able to form a coalition. In that case, the baton would be passed to the second-largest party to try to form a government.

– Which party is in the number two spot?

In the last election, in 2018, the Moderates led by Ulf Kristersson, a centre-right party, won the second highest number of seats. The conservative party promotes a market economy, lower taxes and a smaller role for government in a country with a generous welfare state supported by high taxes.

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Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderates, and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, leader of the Social Democrats, take part in a political debate (Christine Olsson/TT via AP)

But like the Social Democrats, and many other mainstream parties across Europe for that matter, the Moderates have also seen their popularity with voters decline amid a populist challenge coming from further right.

– Who are the populists?

The Sweden Democrats, a populist right-wing party which takes a hard line on immigration and crime, first entered parliament in 2010 and has been growing steadily ever since.

The party won 13% of the vote in 2018, becoming the third-largest force in parliament. Polls show it is likely to improve on that showing on Sunday.

Some Swedes describe the party as Trumpist and feel put off by the fact that it was founded by far-right extremists decades ago, and not quite certain whether to trust it in its transformation to a more traditional conservative party.

The party is led by Jimmie Akesson, a 43-year-old former web designer who has been the driving force in trying to moderate the party’s image.

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Sweden Democrats party leader Jimmie Akesson attends a campaign rally in Vasteras (Tim Aro/TT News Agency via AP)

The party has clearly tapped into the social mood, however. Its success can be measured also by the fact that other parties have been moving closer to its positions as many Swedes believe that they can no longer bear the costs of the generous refugee policies of the past, and are seeking a crackdown on crime.

Once treated as a pariah, other conservative parties have grown increasingly willing to deal with the Sweden Democrats.

– How serious is crime in Sweden?

Some of the immigrants who have been welcomed in Sweden in past years have had difficulties assimilating into Swedish society, leading to segregated neighbourhoods with high crime rates.

Gang violence mostly takes place among criminal networks dealing drugs or involved in other illicit activity. But there have been recent cases of innocent bystanders being hurt. So far this year, 48 people have been killed by firearms in Sweden, three more than in all of 2021.

The fears triggered by constant news of shootings and explosions in disadvantaged neighbourhoods have made crime one of the most pressing issues for voters.

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Johan Pehrson, leader of the Liberal party, and Annie Loof, leader of the Centre party, take part in a political debate broadcast on TV4 from Eskilstuna, Sweden (Christine Olsson/TT via AP)

“Shootings and explosions of bombs have increased in the last few years and (this violence) is now considered a great social problem. I wouldn’t say that it’s as bad as Mexico, but we are on the way,” said Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University in southern Sweden.

– The gender factor

Ms Andersson became Sweden’s first female prime minister less than a year ago – a milestone late in coming for a country that in many ways is an example of gender equality.

“I was really proud,” said Ulrika Hoonk, a 39-year-old who voted early in Stockholm on Friday evening, saying it took “far too long” for that to happen.

Polls show that Ms Andersson’s party is especially popular with women, with men tending to vote more conservative.

Even though Ms Andersson is the first prime minister, there are still many women represented in positions of authority. Four party leaders are women and one party has a woman and a man sharing the leadership. In parliament, the gender balance has long been split roughly 50-50.

Several women interviewed this week said that finally having a woman in the top leadership job was very important for them, and one factor they considered when choosing which party to support.

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