Sweden: Far-right election gains met with spontaneous mass protests

On September 20, 2010 -- the day after the Swedish general election -- 10,000 people in Stockholm protested against the far-right Swedish Democrats party.

By Johann Sommansson

September 23, 2010 -- The counting of votes in the September 19 Swedish parliamentary elections sent out shock waves. The far right made its parliamentary debut, and for the first time in modern Swedish political history an incumbent non-Social Democrats government has been able to win a national election. As such, the process of dismantling the Swedish welfare state is set to continue unabated.

The governing right-wing Alliance emerged as the largest bloc, but failed to retain its majority. With 173 seats, it is two seats short of controlling the assembly on its own. Just 16 votes could have made the difference. Had the Liberal Party obtained another nine votes in one constituency and seven votes in another, it would have won the two remaining seats necessary for the formation of a majority government. The impact of the global financial crisis on Swedish politics has not led to a turn to the left, rather it strengthened the incumbent right wing (perceived as presenting a stronger and more stable leadership).

The Social Democrats, for the first time since the introduction of universal suffrage, contested the polls as part of a pre-electoral coalition. The coalition-building effort wasn't indicative of any profound change in political line, rather it represented a sober understanding that the days when the Social Democrats could win majorities of are long gone. Under the label "Red-Greens", the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens contested the election with the pledge to form a joint coalition gobernment. The Social Democrats obtained 30.7% of the national vote, its lowest figure since 1920. During the campaign, Social Democrats' chairperson Mona Sahlin was frequently attacked by mainstream media. Her leadership will be further criticised in the wake of the debacle. The Green Party reached its highest score ever, 7.3%, but short of some pre-election poll figures that had it passing 10%.

Protest in Malmö, September 20, 2010.

The Left Party received virtually the identical result as in 2006, with an advance of a few thousand votes. But since the total number of voters and voter participation increased, its percentage dropped from 5.8% to 5.6% compared to 2006. The result is consistent with the levels of support the party had throughout the 1980s. The highest figures were recorded in the two northern-most counties, Västerbotten (9.9%) and Norrbotten (9.3%), followed by the two major cities Göteborg (8.6%) and Stockholm (7.4%). In four of the most southern constituencies, the party failed to reach 4%. All in all, the party won 19 parliamentary seats. In the municipal elections (held simultaneously), the Left Party gained a majority of seats in two municipalities, Fagersta and Degerfors (two small towns in the Swedish industrial belt).

But the greatest shock from the elections, which caught the momentary attention of the international press, was the success recorded by the far-right Sweden Democrats party (SD). With some 340,000 votes (5.7%) the SD managed to grab 20 parliamentary seats. The organised far right has never been able to win parliamentary representation before (although a xenophobic, short-lived, populist party won seats in 1991).

Some commentators claim that through these elections Sweden is now a "normal" European country, with a parliamentary far-right populist party. Others point to the fact that the SD's advance had been facilitated by postures from mainstream politicians flirting with the same vote bank. Most notably, the Liberal Party resorted to pre-election statements on immigrants and immigration that, albeit not openly racist, did contain an insinuatory tone towards minorities in Sweden. In the discourse of the Sweden Democrats, Islamophobic arguments became a dominant feature. It has been an ongoing trend (accentuated after 9/11), not just in Sweden but across Western Europe, for far-right parties choose to focus specifically on attacking Muslims rather than immigrants in general. By doing so, they place themselves in a broader framework alongside relatively respected personalities in the public sphere.

Immediately after the election result had been declared, staunch reactions flooded social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Appeals for protests began to circulate spontaneously on Facebook. Seventeen-year-old Felicia Margineau launched an Facebook event for a protest in Stockholm. A few hours later 10,000 demonstrators filled the central Sergels Torg, with the chants like "Crush racism, now!" and "No racists on our streets!" echoing across the centre of the capital. Similar protests were held in Göteborg and Malmö the day after the election, with thousands of participants.

The mood within the Left Party is cautiously optimistic regarding the wave of protests against racism, and in the wake of the elections its membership increased by 10% in just one day (800 new members filled in application forms online).

[Johan Sommansson is a freelance writer in Sweden.]

The biggest shock to me, as a 'naturalised Swedish citizen' (since 1974), was the growth and strength of the Far Right party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the miserable failure of the Social Democratic Party, which achieved only 30% of the popular vote. Their 'Left Block' or 'Red-Green Alliance' had failed.

The 'Historic Compromise' since the late 1930s and the famed 'Golden Age of Social Democracy', during the late 1960s and 1970s, esp. under Prime Minister Olof Palme, was now over as the Right Wing had stolen the clothes of the Left!

However, I had been expecting this election result, especially when on a recent visit to Sweden, I had read in a local Gothenburg daily (Gøteborgs Tidning) that it was thought that 40% of the members of the workers organised in LO [LandsOrganisationen] - the blue-collar union historically closely tied to the Social Democratic Party (SAP)- would now vote for the Moderatarna (Conservatives), as they had swallowed the Right's propaganda that the latter now represents the "New Labour Party" in Sweden, and thus of their, the workers' interests, and thus of the continuation of the Swedish welfare state.

For a serious and in-depth analysis of this phenomenon, from CounterPunch see: An Analysis of the Electoral Fiasco and Lessons for the Democrats -
"Why the Swedish Left Lost" By JONATHAN MICHAEL FELDMAN @


Jeff Skinner reports from Sweden on a frightening parliamentary election that has given the far right seats in parliament for the first time.

September 28, 2010

IN AN election result that sent shock waves across the country, the Sweden Democrats (SD), a far-right party with documented ties to racist and fascist organizations, burst into the Riksdag for the first time in the country's history, winning nearly 6 percent of the vote and 20 seats in parliament.

The SD's gains weren't limited to the national level--it also gained seats in almost every municipality where it stood candidates. To add insult to injury, the leader of the Swedes' Party (formerly the National Socialist Front) took a seat on the municipal council of Grästorp--marking the first time in 70 years that an open Nazi has been elected to public office in Sweden.

The Alliance, a bloc of conservative parties that has held power in Sweden for the last four years, won the most seats in the Riksdag, but fell just short of an outright majority.

On election night, incumbent Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the Moderate Party, declared that the Alliance would not work with the SD to form a government majority. Instead, Reinfeldt made overtures to center-left parties in the Red-Green bloc. He was immediately rebuffed by the Green Party, but so far, the other members of the bloc, the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party, have not responded.

But even if the Alliance doesn't accept the SD into the government, there is nothing preventing it from adapting the SD's politics in the attempt to attract more voters--a maneuver that is becoming commonplace with conventional conservative parties in Europe.

As for the center-left opposition, which ran together in the Red-Green bloc, the Social Democratic Party managed to win the largest number of votes, but its 30.7 percent was the worst result since 1920 for the party that has dominated Swedish politics for decades.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE SD has been able to gain a hearing because of the steady dismantling of the Swedish social welfare state over the past decade. The Alliance has pushed through a neoliberal agenda, in spite of the international crisis. It has lowered taxes and slashed unemployment benefits, diverted more tax money to private health care companies and private schools, privatized publicly owned apartment buildings and residences, and even instituted U.S.-style workfare programs, where people with disabilities are forced to seek jobs in order to retain their benefits.

The traditional left parties--the Social Democrats and the Left Party--disappointed voters by refusing to put forth any kind of resistance to these cutbacks. But this is hardly surprising since the Social Democrats originated many of these same programs in the 1990s.

The SD played on the fears of ordinary working Swedes upset at losing social benefits and worried about the effects of a global crisis that shows no signs of improving. The party was helped by the attention it got from mainstream papers, which refused to call the SD out for the racists and fascists they are, but instead treated them as simply another voice in the debate.

The Green Party gained votes and seats in the Riksdag--a positive sign that a left-of-center party new to the national political scene could make gains. However, the Greens have proven willing to work with the Alliance at the municipal level.

Revolutionary socialists in the Socialist Justice Party (an affiliate of the CWI) successfully retained their seats in two municipal councils.

More important than the election result, however, was the reaction to the SD that erupted from below. The right-wingers were met with loud and confident anti-racist protests wherever they tried to organize election meetings. In many cases, the meetings were canceled before they even started.

And on September 20, the day after the elections, more than 10,000 people gathered in downtown Stockholm to show their anger at the SD's gains--a demonstration that spontaneously turned into a march on the Riksdag building. Further demonstrations have been planned up to and including when the Riksdag opens on October 4.

The threat of the right is a real danger that will have to be challenged with more actions like these. But the left has something to build on. There have been small but significant victories in working-class struggles around the country over the last few years, and socialists need to bring the lessons from those victories to the coalescing movement to oppose the Sweden Democrats.

For more on "THAT" election result in Sweden:


"Thursday 30 September 2010

After that election, Sweden is in denial

Nathalie Rothschild on how Sweden’s cultural elite is scaremongering about the far right to avoid facing up to the collapse of social democracy.

Sweden can be a gloomy place at the best of times, but post-election Sweden feels positively miserable.

Visiting Stockholm and Gothenburg, the two biggest cities, I got a sense that Sweden is now a country where fear and loathing reign.

People from both the left and right said they felt dismayed, sad, depressed and shocked over the electoral success of the right-wing Sweden Democrats, which got 5.7 per cent of the vote.

Since the election on 19 September, thousands of people have joined mourning marches, protests against xenophobia and Facebook campaigns such as ‘Sweden Democrats in Parliament?

No thanks’... Newspaper columnists are still, two weeks later, asking:

How could this have happened in egalitarian, liberal, solidarity-loving Sweden?

What will the rest of the world think?

And who the hell are those 300,000 people who voted for the Sweden Democrats anyway? .... "