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The elections in Sweden



In a changing time when in Norway it seems to have become a popular requirement to change government every four years, it seems easy to understand the Swedish people's desire for change after twelve years. However, the tradition that elections in Sweden only means re-election of incumbent Social Democrats is deeply rooted: Counsel Tage Erlander achieved his best election result after 22 years as prime minister, and later voters immediately reverted to the rule of one-party social democracies after making exceptions for bourgeois coalitions 1976 -81 and 1991-94. Subtracted from the persistent political aftermath of the tsunami disaster, the Social Democrats have well defended the position of the secure national administrators, in a country where all post-war bourgeois coalition governments have had more than enough to manage themselves. The Social Democrats' hegemony in Sweden has built up Western Europe's largest public sector and retained a substantial industrial working class, which makes greater proportions of the working population responsive to the left's message than is the case in Norway, for example. In continuation of this, a continued party trade union movement has maintained a strong position, and maintained a superior election campaign. And the Swedish economy, helped by favorable economic conditions, has been steadily improving in recent years. So why did the ruling party lose the election with a historic bottom line in support? A critical focus must be placed on the man who first totally dominated the Social Democrats' election campaign and then took full responsibility for their defeat, party leader and Prime Minister Göran Persson.

The end of the authoritarian leadership?

The central government and the authoritarian leadership have traditionally been stronger among the Swedish Social Democrats, only partly as a result of the nobility-based Swedish society having remained far more authoritarian than the Norwegian. Since 1907, the Social Democrats have only had six party leaders, and they were all strong men who also remained dominant prime ministers for a number of years. Hjalmar Branting, Per Albin Hansson and Olof Palme were left there alone at the top of the party until they fell dead. Tage Erlander and Ingvar Carlsson were allowed to live longer, and had the political vision to step down while still standing firmly at the top. Göran Persson was thus the first of the party's strong men to be thrown down from the party's top top by the voters last Sunday. Persson in 2006, like Einar Gerhardsen in 1965 and Trygve Bratteli in 1973, became to a certain extent the great leader who would not until too late realize when his heyday was over. However, following the shocking news of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh's death on 11 September 2003, Persson remained a party king without succession. Perhaps the left would, if Lindh had been allowed to live, retain government power – and Sweden would have its first female prime minister. But as the situation became without her, one side of the truth was also that a Persson with visibly reduced motivation loyally stood up for a pressured party without better alternatives. From the Social Democrats' point of view, the situation in the spring of 2006 should, admittedly, have dangerously many similarities to the situation when the conservative Helmut Kohl in 1998 lost his last election in Germany. But to Persson and his party's apology, it was not entirely different from the situation when Tage Erlander and Ingvar Carlsson won their last election in Sweden. And despite EU membership, Swedish Social Democrats still seek advice in their own party history rather than in contemporary Europe.

It remains to be tested whether Persson's fall will be the end of the authoritarian and centrally controlled male bastion the Social Democrats in Sweden have remained. But most indications are that the party will now choose a new type of party leader, who is more listening to his own party and more co-operative towards the left in general. This is largely because increased opposition to authoritarian leaders has become increasingly visible in Sweden as well, most dramatically through the people's no to EMU. And vice versa in proportion to the fact that Persson has in many ways appeared more authoritarian over the years. But also because political Sweden might have looked completely different today if Persson had followed Franklin D. Roosevelt's classic advice: "Look to Norway". After Persson's no to the Green Party's attempt to get a majority alternative on the left, the election in Sweden in 2006 ended up as a reversed version of the 2005 election in Norway: The bourgeois won a narrow victory based on less than 50% of the vote much because only they had a credible majority option.

The beginning of a system change?

The more dynamic strategist Fredrik Reinfeldt had taken over the lessons of the 2005 election in Norway, but above all those from the election in Sweden in 2002. At that time, his party, the Moderates, suffered a crushing defeat, with an unmistakable right-wing policy that answered almost all questions. with “tax breaks”. In contrast, in 2006 the Swedish right became the party that both sacrificed the most politically and won the most voters on alliance cooperation. Whether Reinfeldt is aware of the historical lessons from the Norwegian Conservative Party's great strategist John Lyng is probably far more uncertain: Lyng's 28 days as prime minister ended two years before Reinfeldt was born, nor is there a strong tradition on the right wing in Sweden. draw lessons from the history of other countries. Despite the distance in time, however, there are many instructive parallels between the situation after the bourgeois election victories in Norway in 1965 and Sweden in 2006. Lyng was probably never party leader, and did not become prime minister then in 1965. But he appeared like Reinfeldt as a representative of a light blue new Conservative Party, and became, like Reinfeldt, the most important driving force for the gathering of the bourgeoisie. Conservatives in Norway had long before Lyng said in principle positive to a bourgeois gathering, but Lyng was the first to take the practical consequence of it by drawing the party's policy towards the center. In this, Reinfeldt followed, consciously or unconsciously, as the first Swedish right-wing leader following Lyng's old footsteps. And they also proved to him to lead all the way to the king's table.

The more principled charismaticist Carl Bildt, of whom Reinfeldt would later become a strong critic, became the Swedish Conservatives' first prime minister in the post-war period in 1991. But the takeover in 1991 was in contrast to that in 2006 based on the prime minister's personal strength as well as a good election result for his party, and not at all on any broader bourgeois alliance building. Bildt's days in power ended illustratively enough after only three years, even though his own party defended its support – because the coalition partners had to pay the price for it and more. Thus, the almost 40-year-old party name Moderata samlingspartiet is more adequate for the realities today than it ever was under Bildt or other former party leaders.

What can be said on the springboard for Reinfeldt's period about his preconditions for governing longer and affecting social development more than Bildt did? The preconditions are obviously far better when the bourgeois with a ready common menu can now go to the table economically, without fearing the fierce quarrels about heart issues that have crippled previous bourgeois governments. The Center Party, which has traditionally been the weak link in civil cooperation in Sweden, appears after party leader Maud Olofsson's tight tractor turn to the right now that a fourth wall the government can safely lean on. Partly in the extension of the Center Party's course change, the nuclear power case has lost its political explosiveness in Swedish politics. And with four EU-positive parties, significant disagreement over foreign policy appears only in aid matters, which is likely to mean too little for the Moderates to risk the government's power on dramatic cuts there.

From this, the sky over the new bourgeois government may appear light blue and cloudless. However, a new civil storm does not have to be far away. Reinfeldt's biggest problem as prime minister may, paradoxically, be his success as a party leader. For like John Lyng, Reinfeldt must now, through four years of political weekdays, keep the balance between the demands of an impatient right wing in his own party, and necessary concessions to the coalition partners. Something that becomes particularly demanding after the right-wing party alone became larger than three downtown parties, which overall went back significantly. Contrary to the Norwegian Right, the Moderaterna Party is the far right within its national assembly, so it is a large and composed group that will push for greater tax cuts and more cuts in social democratic welfare schemes from its right wing. So far, all the bourgeois parties are delighted to have received many new positions and greatly increased their policy impact, without any of them having been paid too much for it. The danger of this changing seems greatest within the Liberal People's Party, which, after the election, left without party secretary and with almost half the parliamentary group, as well as a greatly weakened party leader. Should further electoral leaks push the Left Swedish sister party further down the barrier, old skepticism of government cooperation with a large right-wing party can quickly come to the surface again. That danger also applies to the Christian Democrats, who in their first election without party patriarch Alf Svensson lost over a quarter of their support, and again became the least brother on the bourgeois side. Within this cultural struggle party are also the coalition's most principled opponents of the neoliberalism of the Moderates, among others in alcohol politics. And just as there is a right wing within the Norwegian Center Party that is still tacitly skeptical of ongoing government cooperation, within the Swedish Center Party there is a latent left opposition that will follow both its own party leadership and the government coalition with the rest of the Argus. 2006 has been a jubilee year for bourgeois cooperation without equal in Swedish history, and the party atmosphere still prevails in all the new government parties. It will be exciting to see how well the cohesion in and between the four parties can be preserved when the working days start and the bills are to be paid, throughout the political working years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

It will also be exciting to see who the still young and so far somewhat chameleon Reinfeldt turns out to be well ahead in Sweden's highest position of power. "Fredrik Reinfeldt – who is it?", Was an apt title in several ways in one of the first books about the now incoming prime minister. A far more impatient and extreme vintage of his, in 1993 attracted national attention with an ideologically motivated frontal attack on the welfare state. This more rebellious vintage of Reinfeldt became visible in scattered glimpses also during this year's election campaign – most conspicuous when he opened to remove free book lending in Swedish libraries. The main tip is that Reinfeldt in power will remain the truly moderate welfare state friend he appeared to be in this year's election campaign, but perhaps more out of consideration for the government than his own views? John Lyng himself stood so far to the left in the Conservative Party, if not really to the left of the Conservative Party, that concessions to the coalition partners rarely bothered him. It may feel different for Reinfeldt. And the optimistic promises he made in the election campaign to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the private sector at the same time as schools and health care are strengthened, can especially if the economy turns quickly be transformed into political boomerangs.

The fact that John Lyng joined the Right on a political glide toward the city center proved to open space for a new protest party on the outer right wing, which in 1973 neared the rocker between the blocks in the Storting. Also, it is a lesson Reinfeldt does want to note. Because in the shadow of the victory of the bourgeois alliance, the Swedish Democrats won almost 3% support. Today, alliance parties at national level in Sweden can maintain their free-standing no-charge free of charge in collaboration with this xenophobic and often right-wing protest party. But what do they do if the New Nationalists, boosted by several disgruntled jumpers from the Moderate Right's wing, climb over the 4% barrier, and the election last fall is between relying on the support of the Swedish Democrats and giving the government back to the Social Democrats?

In short, it will be very exciting to see if Fredrik Reinfeldt can do what John Lyng failed: To build a lasting bourgeois majority alternative, which can ensure that this year's change of government becomes the beginning of a long-term system change. The conditions are undoubtedly good, but the challenges are nevertheless many.


So far about the election in Sweden – and about what lessons Fredrik Reinfeldt can draw from the story of John Lyng. So what lessons can today's Norwegian politicians draw from the election result in Sweden? The spontaneous reaction in Oslo was understandable cheers in the Conservatives. The headache in the Conservative House the next few days was how to achieve something similar yourself. The right can not only follow in Reinfeldt's footsteps towards the center, since one then turns one's back on the party that does not exist in Sweden, but which is clearly the largest on the right in Norway. Every ymt party leadership in the Conservative Party gives up on cooperation with FrP, leads to strained cough attacks from resourceful core groups within their own party ranks. And every small step the Conservatives take towards the FrP causes the center parties, in instinctive fear, to deviate at least one equally long step away. Illustratively enough, it took a few hours after the Conservatives' cheers, before far more serious faces from the Liberal Party and KrF repeated their firm no to a bourgeois gathering so broad that there is also room for FrP there. The contrast to Reinfeldt's success in uniting all the bourgeois parties, also becomes noticeable when the Conservatives are still struggling to find a leader who can unite their own party. And thus the great dilemma of the Conservatives and the center parties in Norway was not solved by the election result in Sweden, only better made visible.

Most paradoxically, the party leadership of the AP and SV, for their part, can breathe a sigh of relief at the result that cost the sister parties power in Sweden. A clear minus is true enough for Stoltenberg's government, that in Scandinavian co – operation it now comes in the minority against two bourgeois governments. This can have concrete consequences, among other things, in relation to the ownership of jointly owned SAS. But the total failure of Persson's attempt to continue driving alone in the middle of the road makes it an obvious success that Stoltenberg, as the locomotive driver for a united left in Norway, regained government power. And this especially since he at the same time abruptly sniffed his own party's ever-declining voter support. Internal critics in the AP keep a low profile in accordance with the party tradition, but they are found both outside the party apparatus and within the Storting's presidency. The internal critics who can still be thought of firing for a one-party government did not get the ammunition they could have received if the sister party in Sweden had kept all the ministerial posts. Also for the far louder government critics on SV's left wing, the election result was an ice-cold shower. For SV's Swedish sister party, the Left Party went to the polls on an independent left-wing radical profile, after electing a declared communist as party leader. And effectively scared away hundreds of thousands of voters: As a five percent party, the Left Party now has less than half the support it won on a less challenging and more cooperative program in 1998 – and less influence than almost ever in the post-war period. The internal pressure on Minister of Finance and party leader Kristin Halvorsen thus does not increase further, as it would have done if the sister party in Sweden had had an increased influx behind its new and cleaner red flags.

The fate of formerly popular Vänster Party leader Gudrun Schyman in the election in Sweden was a further warning of the possible cost of splitting on the left. Her newly formed party Feminist Initiative with 0,7% support was odious on its own representation, but drew votes from the established left-wing parties that could cost them crucial mandates. In recent years, the radical feminism movement has emerged as far more extreme in Sweden than in Norway, and its influence on the Persson government has, by extension, been controversial. However, the fact that the Swedish feminists formed their own party in protest of the left's alleged down-prioritization of equality issues proved to pave the way for a bourgeois government that would be far less responsive to the demands of the feminist movement. There is a lesson for radical feminists and other subgroups that may form new outbreak parties on the left wing in Norway must note.

A new demand from the voters must now be taken over by all Norwegian and Swedish parties: the demand for capable majority governments. Behind all the years of social democratic majority governments, both Norway and Sweden in the period 1945-85 were characterized by an ongoing tug of war between two almost equal-sized blocs. The Social Democrats dominated in both countries less due to overwhelming support for their own policies, than because they appeared to be the more unified and governing majority alternative. After 20 years marked by weak minority governments, voters in both countries now seem at full speed to return to the two-bloc system – in a new version where the Center Party in Norway is part of the red-green bloc the sister party in Sweden is fighting. In this situation, it will be something close to a political declaration of bankruptcy for the opposition, if not in good time before the next election campaign gets a realistic majority alternative on the field. The bourgeois parties' persistent problems in achieving this are currently the red-green government's best card, in the big game that has all started about power in Norway after 2009.

Hans Olav Lahlum,

is a historian with Scandinavia's political history as a special area.

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