The centre holds: on the Sweden elections

A shrinking vote share for the centrist parties and a notable showing by the far right in Sunday’s elections in Sweden echo the growing anti-immigrant mood in the Nordic nations and across Europe. The incumbent Social Democrats have emerged as the single largest party, but short of a clear majority. Their razor-thin lead over the centre-right will complicate Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s bid to form another minority government. But the most notable phenomenon of the election has been the extreme-right Sweden Democrats, who have been riding the populist wave over immigration and rising domestic crime. It is but small comfort that the party, like its counterparts elsewhere in Europe, did not perform as well as opinion polls had projected. The party, which has its roots in the neo-Nazi movement, has steadily increased its vote share since 2010, when it crossed the minimum threshold to enter Parliament. That share more than doubled in 2014 and has risen further now, bringing it more than 60 seats in the new legislature, which has 349 seats. This performance may render the political isolation of the Sweden Democrats by mainstream parties less tenable in the future. The Moderate and Christian Democrat parties in the centre-right Opposition seem to be gradually shedding their reservations about the Sweden Democrats. The far right’s criticism of the government’s policy to admit Syrian refugees in 2015 as a strain on Sweden’s generous provision of social welfare has already gained some traction. Similarly, it has also stoked the anti-immigrant sentiment by playing on security concerns arising from terrorist attacks in several parts of Europe.

The strain of the lack of a clear majority for the Social Democrats is already apparent, as Prime Minister Löfven faces calls from the Moderate party to step down. While Mr. Löfven has dismissed the suggestion, he is conscious of the political need to strike pragmatic compromises and build a consensus among like-minded parties. With healthy economic growth and relatively low levels of unemployment, the challenge for the new government is to address the mounting demands on the country’s public health care and education services. That would be an effective counter to the populist rhetoric of the extreme right. The region’s next big democratic test will be the 2019 elections to the European Parliament. The history of the European Union-wide elections bears little evidence of popular enthusiasm. Nor have the MEPs been effective in addressing the authoritarian challenge in, say, Hungary and Poland. But the common threat of right-wing extremism could well trigger a popular pan-European response.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 10:19:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-centre-holds/article24929095.ece

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