As I've said, there's a general election coming up in Sweden in September. I've been trying to write about this for a long time but I find it surprisingly difficult. The basic problem is that Swedish politics is pretty dull and uneventful, unlike the roller-coaster-on-LSD that is the Japanese political process. "Dull" may be good for the country, but it doesn't make for good blog posts.
The governing term in Sweden is fixed - four years, with election held on the third Sunday of September of the fourth year. Even if a government would fall and an extra election held, it would not alter the schedule; the new government would only sit until the next regular election. This pretty much removes any incentive for people to play politics with the election schedule or topple the government before its time, and is, I believe, one of three reasons governments are fairly stable.
Another reason for the stability is that we only have one chamber, so there's no Upper house to second-guess or derail governmental decisions, and no risk of split majorities. Lastly, no-confidence motions against the government need to be majority decisions. It's not enough that the government doesn't get a majority approval; a majority has to actively vote against the government. And of course, if you're a presumptive coalition partner, an active opposing vote isn't going to be looked at kindly by the other members of the coalition.
Historically, Swedish politics have been dominated by the Social Democrats. They were continuously in power for over forty years after the second world war and have only occasionally been out of power since. They're like the Japanese LDP in a way, as they are more or less the architects of the current society and political systems. Unlike the LDP, however, they have not turned sclerotic or collapsed, and they can probably thank the occasional loss of power for that. There's nothing like a few years in opposition to rethink your ideology and sharpen your arguments.
The current government is a center-right coalition. They have done a decent job, overall, and has managed to keep together for the entire term; having the coalition partners still speaking to each other after four years is a novel change from previous conservative attempts at government. They seem to really have developed into a genuine coalition more than a temporary governing union.
The current coalition has proved stable, popular and surprisingly capable of governance. This has forced the center-left Social Democrats - who have always formed governments alone even when they depended on other parties' support - to create a formal coalition of their own in response. They tend to poll around the 30-35% level, which ties them as the largest party but is still a far cry from the 45% or more they could count on a generation ago.
In the opposition center-left coalition, the Social Democrats are joined by the Green party, the third largest party overall in the opinion polls with around 10%. While they've historically been leaning left, the Greens aren't strictly left on the traditional scale. The currently dominant faction has a pragmatic outlook, values individual liberty and small business and would have little trouble cooperating with the centrist parties of the ruling coalition. It's fair to say the coalition needs them more than they need the coalition.
The third partner is the (un)reformed Communists, who get only about 5% in the polls - uncomfortably close to the cutoff point of 4 percent - and is completely dependent on the good-will of the Social Democrats to get a seat in power. They'd love to knock off some support from the Greens, partners or not, and they're not the most reliable people to have around. It doesn't help that Mona Sahlin, the Social Democrat leader and Prime minister candidate, didn't want them in the coalition, but was overruled by her own party.
The governing center-right coalition is dominated by the Moderates, which is formerly tax-cut pro-business right-wing, now pragmatically centrist, and polling at around 30% or so. They were opposed to the building of the modern welfare state early last century, and they spent a few generations trying to dismantle it in favour of a low-tax individualistic society in the mould of USA and Thatcherite Britain. Eventually - it only took half a century - they came to realize that most people, including a fair number of their own voters, actually like the high-tax, high-service welfare state, and they want to keep it. So the party has shifted from wanting to dismantle the welfare state to lower its cost and increase the efficiency, something that seems to resonate with a fairly large part of the voting public.
The Center party is formerly rural, with an environmental and small-business agenda not unlike the Greens. They're joined by the People's Party, which used to be classically liberal, but has swung towards the hard law-and-order right. Both tend to poll in the 5-8% range, uncomfortably close to the cutoff point, and it must be especially galling for the People's party that used to be the third largest party at 10% or more before their ideological lurch toward the right.
The final coalition partner is the Christian Democrats. They are the odd man out in the parliament with their opposition to abortion and gay marriage (they were the only party in parliament to vote against it) and a fundamentalist christian base. They hover right on the edge of the cutoff point of 4% and may not even make it into the parliament. Part of their problem is that while a fair number of voters like their pro-family and social conservative policies, they are put off by the religious content. So the less voters hear about their actual program the better they do in the polls. Every time voters get reminded of their background and their ideological similarity to conservative religious movements elsewhere their support drops.
There's a number of small parties vying for a seat in parliament. Most of them aren't really of any general interest, but two of them are worth mentioning here.
First, and distastefully, is the Sweden Democrats, polling at around 3-4%. They are a cleaned-up and polished political outgrowth of the xenophobic far right, with their members drawn from Neo-nazi and racist organizations. Their ideology, such as it is, is a thoroughly confused mix of social conservatism, xenophobia and a longing for an ethnically and religiously homogeneous 1950's Sweden that has never actually existed. They draw a fair number of their supporters from the same pool as the Christian Democrats, and they in turn have responded by sliding out toward the far right, trying to get those voters back. If these two parties would manage to keep each other out of parliament I'd be happy.
Second is the Pirate Party. It is largely a one-issue party, concerned with individual freedom, privacy and intellectual property rights, online and off. Of course, that one issue actually encompasses a number of very important questions such as the right to speech, regulation of the internet, the nature of property and so on. They managed quite an upset in the EU election last year, getting two members into the European parliament, but unless they pull an upset it doesn't look likely that they'll be able surmount the 4% cutoff point and get into parliament in September. Whether they do or not, their existence has given much higher visibility to these questions than before.
So, what would my ideal election result look like? Probably something like a governing coalition of the Moderates, the Center, the Greens and the Pirate Party; with the Christian Democrats, the Communists and the Sweden Democrats all failing to get seats in parliament. Not going to happen, I know, but I can dream.