General elections in Sweden 15th September 2002 the gap between the social-democrats and the opposition parties is closing


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


15 September 2002

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

One week before the election the Social Democrat's lead over its competitors has collapsed. They are still forecast to win the general elections on 15th September but the leftwing parties are worried about the ground gained by the Opposition.

The event at the end of this campaign has been the breakthrough made by a small group called the People's Party-The Liberals (FpL). At the end of August surveys said that the FpL had 8,5% of the intention to vote, that is double their 1998 score – a figure that has stabilised since then at 7%. The cause of this breakthrough is a paragraph in the FpL's programme which would make it obligatory for foreigners who want to take Swedish nationality to undergo a language test. This suggestion made the discussion on immigration obligatory during the electoral campaign. From now on all of the political groups are competing with suggestions on the subject. The Social Democrat Prime Minister, Göran Persson is promising to halve the number of unemployed immigrants during his next term in office. Just a few months ago he was pleased to announce the consensus amongst the Swedish political classes on immigration but he was incapable of preventing this becoming a key theme of the electoral campaign just as it has in all of the other European countries.

Apart from immigration, healthcare has been another central theme of this campaign. A study carried out in 2001 shows that 14% of the working population misses work due to illness, ie one Swede in seven. This is a high figure a worry for the politicians and that weighs heavily on public spending. In 2002 social security spending is due to cost 15% of the State budget.

A Skop survey at the end of August granted 50% of the intention to vote to the SAP – a leftwing party – the Greens versus 47.7% to the other opposition parties: Moderate Assembly Party, Centre Party and the People's party-the Liberals (FpL). The two most recent polls, published on 4th September, are split in terms of the battle between the different groups. According to Temo the three leftwing parties have 49.9% of the intention to vote (34.4% for the SAP, 10.2% for the Left Party and 5.3% for the Greens) whilst the four rightwing groups have 47.4% (of which 10.4% for the Peoples' Party-the Liberals, 20.3% for the Moderate Assembly Party, 10.1% the Christian Democrat Party and 6.6% for the Centre Party). But the survey carried out by Sifo grants 52.1% to the Left (with only 4.1% for the Greens) versus 45.4% for the right and centre-right.

Although the three leftwing parties are still ahead the Green's low score, estimated at only 4.1% of the intention to vote and therefore very close to the critical 4% mark in order to be represented in Parliament - worries the Prime Minister Göran Persson, since he rejected the offer made by the Left Party (that supports but does not take part in the government) to work together. The Social Democrats were expecting their lead to melt away as the campaign progressed, but the Liberal Party's (FpL) advance is all the more worrying since the Ecologists are now in difficulty. The only satisfaction for the ruling party is the weakness of the Moderate Assembly Party, the main opposition party credited with only 20% of the intention to vote, ie their worst score since 1993.

At the beginning of the campaign the Social Democrat Party tended towards the Left adding a series of suggestions to their programme - to fight against economic redundancies as well as to re-evaluate the unemployment insurance for example, but now they are losing ground according to the polls that were undertaken a few months ago and do not appear to be in a position to win the 40% that would enable them to govern alone.

According to some analysts the Greens are in trouble because they are part of the government and their present unpopularity is likened to that of the Centre Party, also a member of the government coalition at the end of the last term in office. "It is the irony of politics, by strengthening the ecological commitment of the other parties the Greens are losing votes just as they achieve their objectives" writes Margit Silberstein, political reporter for the daily newspaper Göteborgs-Posten.

The Left Party, that has been the object of the discontent of part of the population who criticise the Social Democrats for employing policies that are too centrist, is also losing ground in comparison with its 1998 score. Gudrun Schyman its president does not seem to have been convincing in her criticism of the Prime Minister, Göran Persson and his support of the USA after the attacks on 11th September.

The Swedes that live in the most isolated places (18 inhabitants per km2), were able to start fulfilling their civic duties as from 28th August by going to one of the 1,450 Post Offices. These have been equipped with at least one booth and a ballot box and have been used as an election office for the 18 days preceding the election.

If the Social Democrats managed to win the election on 15th September in the Scandinavian kingdom, it remains to be seen how their Ecologist allies perform and to see whether Göran Persson will be able to rule with his usual parliamentary allies or whether he will have to plan for another coalition and open up negotiations with the Centre Party with whom the SAP had governed in the past.

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