In Sweden, party politics negates and undermines parliamentary democracy

Currently Sweden is caught up in a so-called “Crisis of Government” which only serves to show that the Government itself is completely subservient to party politics and the exercise of Parliamentary democracy by the members of Parliament has become irrelevant. Of course in most parliamentary democracies, the exercise of democracy is always compromised by the party system which ensures that members of parliament represent their parties first and only very rarely their constituents. The members of the Swedish parliament particularly, are party representatives first, spokesmen for their own voters second and don’t even try very hard to represent any broader constituency. Votes in parliament are all settled in advance and the actual proceedings in parliament are for the sake of form and are relegated to be of little relevance. Parliamentary votes are usually just a formality.

But a possible challenge to the cosy, back-room deals is causing a furore.

Currently the Swedish Parliament has 349 members from 8 parties.

Social Democrats – 113, Moderates – 84, Sweden Democrats – 49, Environment Party – 25, Centre Party – 22, Left Party – 21, Peoples Party – 19, Christian Democrats – 16.

The Social Democrats and the Environmental Party with 138 seats (of 349) make up the minority government. Adding in the Left Party which supports them from outside the government gives them 159 seats which is still short of a majority. The conservative, market oriented alliance only commands 141 seats. The Sweden Democrats – which is a right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-immigrant party with neo-Nazi roots – is being shunned by all the other parties.  But the balance of power is clearly held by the Sweden Democrats.

The crunch comes tomorrow when the government’s first budget comes up in Parliament for approval. It is normal practice for other parties to oppose by abstaining from voting for the governments budget but instead voting for their own. So even a minority government gets its budget approved as long as all the rest don’t get behind a single alternative budget. The conservative alliance will present their own budget and vote for it but abstain from voting when the government’s budget comes up. The government’s budget has taken on board much of what the Greens and the Left wanted but has ignored the Sweden Democrats and the conservative alliance. It is fairly obvious that the the Greens and the Left are wielding an influence that is far in excess of their strength in parliament. The Greens are leveraging their minority position in a minority government to extort many concessions from the Social Democrats in power.

But now all the parties and all the media are in a tizzy because the Sweden Democrats could challenge the normal cozy, back-room deals usually done by the parties and which are just rubber-stamped by a parliament where all the members stop thinking for themselves and just follow the party line. The Sweden Democrats – who have no chance of getting their own budget passed – are considering backing the budget presented by the conservative alliance. They are perfectly entitled and perfectly within their parliamentary rights to do that since this is closer to their own budget.  But if they do then the choices for the government are limited. They could defer the vote, return the budget to committee and try to come up with something which commands a majority in parliament. Which is, of course, something they should have done in the first place. Or they could call a new election.

The Social Democrats have their knickers in a real twist. They are blaming the Sweden Democrats of not following practice, of extortion and of being irresponsible. They are blaming the conservative parties of allowing the right-wing forces to succeed – by inaction. And that is rather a strange accusation. But I think they protest too much. The Sweden Democrats will decide on their position today. The media are nearly all criticising them for taking so long to announce how they will vote. Which is also rather strange. If all votes are announced before the voting takes place, what then is the purpose of making speeches and arguing and voting in the parliamentary chamber? The democratic powers of parliament have become a matter of form but seem to have no substance.

Why bother with the parliament if all decisions can effectively be taken in the back-rooms outside of parliament.

If the democratic parliament is to have any real meaning then the government needs to present a budget which commands a real majority of the 349 votes where the votes are free and not constrained by party position (i.e. a minimum of 175 voting in favour).

Actually I expect that the Sweden Democrats will chicken out today and the government budget will get passed tomorrow. If they truly represented their voters they would have to make sure that this government budget fails. It will be a lopsided and essentially an undemocratic budget.  It will be undemocratic in that there will be far too much dictated by the Greens and the far Left and well in excess of their due. If the budget passes, it will be a case of tyranny by the minority.

The only really democratic option – which I would like to see – is that the government takes its responsibility which it should have done in the first place. It needs to revise and formulate a new budget which truly commands a free majority in the house.

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