Sweden’s general election – unsatisfactory choices in a quiet campaign

Sweden goes to the polls on Sunday for its four-yearly general election (parliamentary, county level and municipal level). Even though there are sporadic efforts to inject some excitement into the proceedings, excitement is notably lacking. But engagement is not and a fairly high turn-out can be expected – thought it will probably be slightly lower than 4 years ago. We shall be voting and I – for one – am quite happy that the noise and the circus of an Indian or a US election will be absent. I am also quite happy that the nastiness (but stupid nastiness) of a UK election will also be missing. I find nastiness in campaigning can be mitigated to some extent if there is some cleverness involved but the campaigns of all the various parties in Sweden are not nasty but neither are they very inspiring or very clever.

The only little “excitement” has been the “shock” disclosures by the Expressen newspaper about the various members of the neo-Nazi, right-wing, nationalistic Swedish Democrats who have been busy making anonymous, nasty, racialist and anti-zionist comments on the internet on a number of “hate” sites. But there has not been much shock involved. Their attempted nastiness is only to be expected. The Swedish Democrats remain largely a party of “junkies and hooligans” but the party leader, Jimmy Åkesson, is actually the most personable of all the party leaders on display and more articulate than most.

Though quiet campaigns are much to be desired they do not necessarily ensure rational discussion. There are some serious issues facing Sweden (schooling, health care, the balance between private profit and quality of service, integration of immigrants, energy policy and – above all – job creation) but the limited coalitions of parties that are available lead only to unsatisfactory choices for the electorate. There has been -unfortunately – little intellectual content in the debates even though there could have been much more. Cliche has been set against cliche. “Political correctness” has been immune to challenge. In fact one of the fundamental problems is that Swedish “political correctness” is well past its “sell-by date”. All the parties talk down to the electorate. They give voters little credit for being able to think and that has been a pity. The Swedish electorate is probably more capable of applying their minds to the many issues than in many other countries. But they have not been given the chance.

The choice is limited to either a coalition of the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, the Centre Party and the Peoples Party (a sort of libertarian, right-leaning, profit oriented, market oriented grouping) or a coalition of the Social Democrats with the Environmental Party and supported by the Left party and the Feminine Initiative (a sort of socialistic, do-gooding, left-leaning, we-know-best, authoritarian grouping with tinges of communistic zeal). These two blocks actually demonstrate the undemocratic nature of party politics. You don’t actually vote for individuals as your representatives or that of a constituency – you vote for people on the party lists. How people are selected to be on the party list has little to do with democratic principles and everything to do with activism within the party. Those elected represent their party first, party members next and the general electorate last. Whichever block wins, a coalition is inevitable. And the evils of all coalition governments will be again on display. The smaller parties will have a disproportionate influence and importance in the policies followed by each block. If the two large political blocks are evenly balanced it will put an undemocratic balance-of-power into the hands of the extremist, but small, Swedish Democrats.

The two major parties (the Moderates and the Social Democrats) have little choice but to put up with the foibles of their smaller partners. Rather than providing a natural check and balance, mollifying the smaller parties leads to fractured and inconsistent policies. The Moderates are forced to adopt some policies to satisfy the fundamentalism of the Christian Democrats and others to satisfy the Big-Nanny tendencies of the Peoples Party (Folkpartiet). The Centre Party is chasing the youth vote but are remarkably superficial about everything. The Social Democratic Party (which is just a straight-forward, if anachronistic, Big Union Party) has to put up with the eco-fascism and intellectual bankruptcy of the Environmental Party. They will have to ignore the job-destructive consequences of all the so-called Green policies. They may have to accept the support and some far-left policy elements of the Left Party (which is just an old-fashioned Communist Party by another name). The Feminist Initiative is neither here nor there.

Not great choices then. I expect the Social Democratic, red-green coalition will probably win – just. But jobs are going to be destroyed mainly by the Green initiatives which will have to be pandered to. And where jobs are created they will be in the public sector and will be wealth consuming rather than wealth creating.

But it will be a quiet election. And I do appreciate that.

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