Per Persson examines the overwhelming defeat of the Social Democratic Party in the recent elections and explains why, after more than twelve years of uninterrupted governance, the Swedish people have decided to change governments. Not only did the Social Democratic Party fail to outline its plan to create more jobs, but as rigid political lines blur, and all parties drift towards the center, the renewed and revitalized Moderaterna (Moderate) Party and its center-right Alliance were able to attract a vast majority of the votes to lead them to an overwhelming victory. In Persson opinion, this victory presents a golden opportunity for the new majority government of the Alliance and Prime Minister Reinfeldt, to lead the newly transformed Swedish politics towards important, lasting change.
AFTER TWELVE YEARS OF UNINTERRUPTED GOVERNANCE IN SWEDEN and three consecutive terms in office, the Social Democratic Party has plummeted from power. The elections produced some of the worst results in the party’s history. A coalition of four centre-right wing parties called the Alliance, won with 48.2 to 46 per cent of the votes against the coalition of Social Democrats, the Green party, and the Left Wing Party, giving the Alliance a majority in parliament. The Swedish people delivered a strong message in these elections: the time for a new government has come.
What is difficult to understand, however, is why, in a country with a booming economy and a welfare system envied around the world, the people of Sweden would want to change governments.
THE COMEBACK OF MODERATERNA
The general opinion among many experts and political scientists in Sweden is that the Social Democrats were not clear enough in outlining their strategies to create more jobs. The Alliance, on the other hand, had a comprehensible and pragmatic strategy for job creation and growth.
Another crucial turning point was the new image of Moderaterna, whose disastrous defeat in the elections of 1998 made many believe that the party was done for. But under the new leadership of Mr. Fredrik Reinfeldt, an economist and politician from Stockholm, Moderaterna has made an enormous comeback. With intelligent planning, and clear leadership, they were able to appeal to a diversity of voters by calling themselves the new Labour Party. And Mr. Reinfeldt, or rather Prime Minister Reinfeldt, is already profiting from his party’s victory, taking the lead in forming his new government, which must begin work during the first week of October.
MORE POLITICAL MOBILITY
Traditionally those people who would vote for the Social Democratic Party would never dream of voting for the conservative Moderaterna. But this election saw the crossover of a large number of voters to this revitalized and powerfully led underdog.
This change of loyalties shows the dissatisfaction that many Swedish citizens feel in regards to the incumbent regime, but it also demonstrates several important tendencies in Swedish politics. First, is an ever-growing trend that indicates that all parties are moving towards the center, making it harder and harder to distinguish between them. And second, voters are allowing themselves more mobility between the traditional right and left wing parties.
Contrary to the static party loyalty and traditional class structure of older generations, the newer generations are no longer bound to vote along party lines. It is becoming acceptable and almost commonplace to switch from left to right depending on the election.
DILEMMA OF THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS
On the eve of the elections, after the defeat was known, Prime Minister Goran Persson dramatically resigned from his post as leader of the Social Democratic Party. A party conference will be held in March to appoint a successor.
However, this resignation presents a huge dilemma for the party, which still feels the loss of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Lind, who was murdered in 2003.
Mrs. Lind was seen by many as the evident successor of Mr. Persson. Since her death, there has been no clear leader to rise up from within the party, which many argue is Prime Minister Persson’s fault. Due to his tough leadership style he has hindered a new generation of Social Democratic leaders from reaching high positions with the party.
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
A new political system is on the rise in Sweden, with the privatization of government controlled companies, a more flexible labor market, lower taxes for MSEs, the continuance of the welfare system, a partly new tax structure, and a more active role in European politics.
The last center-right wing coalition, led by Carl Bildt in the early nineties, did not succeed staying in power for more than one term of office. Yet, this time it may be different.
Sweden has not had a majority government since 1981. Never has a coalition had such a strong, shared vision of how Sweden should be governed. Mr. Reinfeldt and the Alliance have a golden opportunity before them to make important, lasting changes in Swedish society, and lead Sweden forward for the better.