EXPLAINER: What to know ahead of Sweden’s election on Sunday
Stockholm, Sweden — Sweden is holding elections on Sunday to elect lawmakers to the 349-seat Riksdag as well as local offices across the country of 10 million people. Early voting began on August 24. Here are some key things to know about voting.
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is fighting to keep her centre-left Social Democrats leading a left-wing coalition but faces a tough challenge from the right.
Sweden is known for being a cradle-to-grave welfare society and Andersson would like to preserve the social welfares that have long defined Sweden and reverse some of the market-oriented changes by a previous government. His party believes that some of the changes, such as state subsidies to private schools, create greater inequality.
The once mighty Social Democrats have been in power since 2014. But as the party’s popularity has plummeted, he has presided over a weak government that relies more on other parties to pass laws, creating political instability during of the past eight years.
WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN?
There are two large blocks: one with four parties on the left and another with four on the right. Pre-election polls say this is impossible to predict.
“It’s basically a draw. It’s 50-50 between the two sides,” said Zeth Isaksson, a sociologist in voting behavior at Stockholm University, on Saturday.
According to Swedish law, the party that wins the most seats forms the next government. Polls show that it will probably be Andersson’s party, which will have to create a coalition with other parties.
But if the left as a whole is performing poorly, it might not be able to form a coalition. In this case, the baton would have passed to the second largest party to try to form a government.
WHICH PARTY IS IN THE NO. 2 SEATS ?
In the last elections in 2018, the moderates led by Ulf Kristersson, a centre-right party, won the second most seats. The Conservative Party promotes a market economy, lower taxes and a lesser role for government in a country with a generous welfare state supported by high taxes.
But like the Social Democrats and other mainstream parties across Europe, the Moderates have also seen their popularity decline amid a populist challenge from the far right.
WHO ARE THE POPULISTS?
The Swedish Democrats, a right-wing populist party that takes a hard line on immigration and crime, first entered parliament in 2010 and have grown steadily ever since.
The party won 13% of the vote in 2018, becoming the third force in parliament. Polls show it is likely to improve from Sunday’s.
Some Swedes compare the party to Trump-style populism and note that it was founded by far-right extremists decades ago. They do not trust him in his announced transformation into a more traditional conservative party.
The party is led by Jimmie Akesson, a 43-year-old former web designer who has been the driving force in trying to moderate the party’s image.
However, the party has clearly tapped into the social mood and other parties have moved closer to its positions, as many Swedes believe they can no longer bear the costs of the country’s generous refugee policies and seek to crack down on crime.
Once a pariah, other conservative parties are increasingly willing to deal with Sweden’s Democrats.
Andersson told reporters on Saturday that “the rise of the far right” was partly the fault of the right-wing opposition, which she said “spent so much time and effort trying to convince people that the Swedish Democrats are not the party they really are.
HOW SERIOUS IS CRIME IN SWEDEN?
Some immigrants had difficulty integrating into Swedish society, which led to segregated neighborhoods with high crime rates.
Gang violence mainly occurs within criminal networks trafficking drugs or involved in other illicit activities. But there have been recent cases of innocent bystanders being injured. So far this year, 48 people have been killed by firearms in Sweden, three more than in 2021.
Fears over shootings and explosions in inner-city neighborhoods have made crime one of the most pressing issues for Swedish voters.
“Shooting and bomb explosions have increased in recent years and (this violence) is now seen as a big social problem,” said Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University in southern Sweden.
THE GENDER FACTOR
Andersson became Sweden’s first female prime minister less than a year ago – a late step for a country that in many ways is an example of gender equality.
“I was really proud,” said Ulrika Hoonk, a 39-year-old woman who voted early in Stockholm on Friday, saying it took “far too long” for this to happen.
Polls show Andersson’s party to be particularly popular with women, with men tending to vote more conservative.
Even though Andersson is the first prime minister, there are still many women represented in positions of authority. Four party leaders are women and one party has a woman and a man who share the leadership. In parliament, the gender balance has long been split roughly 50-50.
Several female voters interviewed this week said finally having a female leader was very important to them, and a factor they considered when choosing which party to support.
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed.