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September 14, 2018

Sweden is no exception


September 14, 2018

Sweden has failed to escape the emerging phenomenon of the far-right making gains across Europe. In the September 9 general elections, established political parties have suffered losses at the hands of a far-right party.

Recent elections in Germany, Italy and France have reflected similar trends. It appears that social democracy finds itself embroiled in a crisis and is losing support in various countries across Europe, except Britain.

Swedish voters have given a split mandate in the 2018 general elections. Both the right and left blocs have failed to obtain a clear majority to form a stable government.

While both blocs won 40 percent of votes, the left bloc won 144 seats as against 142 seats clinched by the Right blocs. The left-wing bloc comprises the ruling Social Democrats and Green Party, with the informal support of the Left Party in parliament, and the right-wing ‘alliance’ consists of the Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.

The far-right Sweden Democrats don’t belong to either bloc. The ultra-nationalist and extreme right-wing party – with its anti-EU, anti-immigration rhetoric – has emerged as the real winners of this election by becoming the third largest party in the Swedish parliament.

It is difficult to predict whether or not the right-wing alliance and the far-right Sweden Democrats will be able to form a coalition government. But one thing is clear: right-wing parties will form the largest bloc in parliament. If the ruling centre-left coalition succeeds in maintaining a razor-thin majority and continues to rule as a minority government, it will face difficulties in passing laws, budgets and measures from a parliament dominated by the right-wing parties. Regardless of what happens, Sweden will witness an unstable government that will be compelled to make significant compromises in order to govern.

The night of the election was disappointing for all those who wanted to see an increased majority for the centre-left coalition, and a visible change in economic policies that focus on austerity and cuts in social spending. It is likely that the policies of privatisation, austerity and further cuts on the welfare state will continue as right-wing parties gain an upper hand in parliament.

In the September 9 election, the Social Democrats witnessed their worst election result since 1911 as it only gained 28.4 percent of all votes. This is the price they are paying for their right-wing policies and the counter-reforms that they have introduced since the 1990s. The continued attacks on the welfare state and living standards have made them unpopular among various sections of Sweden’s population.

At the same time, the traditional right-wing parties only received 40.3 percent of all votes, which is their second-worst result ever. The Moderate Party obtained 19.8 percent, which is three points less than the results that forced their previous leader John Fredrik Reinfeldt to resign in 2014.

Meanwhile, the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats made significant gains and increased its share of votes by around five percent. The party’s anti-immigration, anti-establishment and anti-EU rhetoric helped increase their support base among the working class and poor.

Policies regarding the welfare state, social partnership, and class collaboration that were put forward by Social Democrats made Sweden an equal and fair society in terms of wealth distribution till the 1980s. But the situation has changed since the 1990s when neoliberal economic policies were introduced. Since then, inequality has risen sharply in Sweden. Neoliberal policies and the free-market economic onslaught have widened the class divide.

Capitalists have made considerable profit at the expense of the Swedish working class. Many of them have large sums of money that are either left unused or stashed away in tax havens. According to some estimates, 187 billionaires of Sweden’s billionaires have more money than the net wealth of the Swedish state and the pension system combined. The Swedish capitalist class has shift the burden of the economic crisis onto the working class.

Given the historical period in which Sweden’s welfare state was created, it came to be recognised as an exception. At the time, the post-war boom enabled the ruling class in Sweden to make significant concessions to the working class. Sweden was known for its model welfare state and viewed as a symbol of social democratic development across the world. The provision of free education, healthcare benefits, employment and housing made Sweden an ideal place to live.

But the country is no longer the same place that it used to be. The Swedish ruling class appears to have abandoned all hope of creating a welfare state and has made major cuts on social spending. Poverty is on the rise amid the ruins of the welfare state and has affected 0.5 million pensioners and children.

In addition, many patients have lost their lives as surgeries weren’t carried out on time, the unemployed are forced into pointless and humiliating ‘training’, and a large number of people have found it impossible to even see a doctor. In many workplaces, casualisation and temporary employment agencies have become the norm, and wages and working conditions have drastically worsened.

Young people can clearly see that the society in which their parents grew up is gradually eroding. Many of them face a bleak future marred by casual jobs and a constant struggle to finding suitable housing. They have seen nothing but counter-reforms. Austerity and the welfare state can’t go hand-in-hand. So, Sweden is certainly no exception.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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