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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: Money scandal, the poll of polls and dancing politicians

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: Money scandal, the poll of polls and dancing politicians
The Swedish election is heating up. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

It’s been an eventful week, and it’s clear that the election is drawing closer.

If you’ve been in Sweden long enough, you may remember when public broadcaster SVT just four days before the 2002 election visited campaign tents with a hidden camera and caught in particular representatives of the Moderates saying extremely racist things. The conservative party as a result plummeted in the polls and had their worst election in decades.

Similar political dynamite was produced by investigative reporters at broadcaster TV4’s show Kalla Fakta last week, who, with the help of businessmen, called each of Sweden’s eight parties, pretending to want to circumvent funding rules to donate half a million kronor anonymously.

Swedish law states that anonymous donations to political parties are only allowed if the donation does not exceed 24,150 kronor (€2,281), but only three parties (Left, Green and Centre) told Kalla Fakta’s undercover team that it wasn’t possible for them to remain anonymous. The rest of them (Social Democrats, Liberals, Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats) suggested different ways of getting around the requirements.

The parties are now in damage control mode. The Social Democrats have already removed their head of finance from her post, the Liberals also let their representative go after initially trying to deny what had happened.

It’s too early to say whether this scandal – and it’s seen as a massive scandal – will affect the outcome of the election, but it’s certainly sparked debate in a country that usually ranks well in anti-corruption surveys.

Centre Party picks favourite PM candidate

Whoever wins the election will have a big job ahead of them trying to cobble together a viable coalition government. The Centre Party’s Annie Lööf has now firmly, and unsurprisingly, aligned herself with the centre-left bloc, telling the Dagens Nyheter newspaper she would consider ministerial roles for the party in a Social Democrat-led government.

The Centre Party and the Liberals are Sweden’s two small, centrist-liberal parties, but they parted ways this year with the former supporting the left bloc and the latter joining the Moderates, Christian Democrats and anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the right. Both moves are tactically risky, as the left wing’s state-controlled welfare system is anathema to the Centre Party’s free market voters, and the Liberals risk losing voters who can’t bear their new friendliness with the Sweden Democrats.

It was therefore clever of Lööf to link her support for the Social Democrats not to the party itself, but to Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, whose popularity vastly overshadows that of opposition leader Ulf Kristersson.

“I believe Magdalena Andersson has the leadership needed,” she said.

The Centre Party still, however, balks at the notion of taking part in any organised negotiations with the Left Party, whose support Andersson is also likely to need if she were to form a government after the election.

I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if Sweden ends up with a Social Democrat minority government again, with Andersson acting as the go-between; the Left Party talks to her, she talks to the Centre Party, and neither of those two parties actually have to talk to each other. But don’t quote me on that, because this election race could still go anywhere!

Who’s in the lead?

Where are we at in the polls? According to “the poll of polls” by election researchers at Gothenburg University, based on the latest surveys by five of Sweden’s main pollsters, the left bloc is currently polling at 49.4 percent and the right bloc at 48.8 percent (with the Green Party on the left and the Liberals on the right both polling above the parliamentary threshold).

Also in the world of Swedish politics, Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson spoke to The Local about his preferred work permit rules (a departure from the party’s current stance), public broadcaster SVT revealed how much the parties are spending on their election campaigns, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson (who was voted the winner of Aftonbladet’s party leader debate last week) told DN he wants to give the Sweden Democrats “serious influence” in post-election negotiations, and the Green Party wants all public buildings to install solar panels in order to bring energy prices down.

Last week was also the week when the rhetoric on immigration was taken to a new level. My colleagues at The Local spoke about the parties’ immigration and integration plans in the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast – I recommend giving it a listen, it’s a great episode.

Finally, for anyone who’s been following Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s “party gate” this week, I give you this video of Sweden’s former Moderate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt singing his country’s Eurovision contender of 1987, and this video of former Social Democrat Prime Minister Göran Persson dancing with a cow.

Enjoy, and never say Swedish politicians don’t know how to have fun.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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CRIME

EXPLAINED: What Sweden’s controversial new espionage law means

Sweden's new law against foreign espionage will alter passages in Sweden's constitutional laws governing freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The Local spoke to Mikael Ruotsi, senior lecturer in constitutional law at Uppsala University, about the new law.

EXPLAINED: What Sweden’s controversial new espionage law means

What was wrong with the previous law?

Sweden’s previous espionage law only covered Sweden’s national security, while the new law expands this to cover information that could harm Sweden’s relations with other countries or international organisations. Ruotsi said that Sweden’s last government, together with the then opposition parties, had felt that Sweden’s current spy law was too narrowly drawn, and also was less extensive than those of many of the country’s international partners.  

“What it aims to do is to encompass situations, for instance, where Swedish Armed Forces are working within UN peacekeeping operations, and classified information is divulged, which might harm the peacekeeping operation or other participating countries’ national interests, but not Swedish national interest,” Ruotsi said.

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Under Sweden’s existing laws, leaking information in this sort of scenario might be considered “divulging classified information”, but that he said is only a relatively minor crime.

Under the new law, it will become a more serious offence, with a maximum prison sentence of eight years for “aggravated foreign espionage” and four years for “foreign espionage”. 

Ruotsi said that the law had been in preparation for six to seven years and had nothing to do with either Sweden joining Nato, or with the decision by the Swedish diplomat Anders Kompass to blow the whistle in 2014 about a report into child sexual abuse carried out by French Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and July 2014. 

Kompass was then field operations director at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and is now ambassador to Guatemala. 

“We can be fairly sure that this has nothing to do with the Anders Kompass situation,” Ruotsi said “I think it’s more of a reaction to Sweden being more involved at the international level in UN missions and things like that, and that there is increased international involvement with the Swedish Armed Forces.” 

How does the new law change the constitution?

Rather than a single written constitution, Sweden has four constitutional laws. The new law changes two of them: the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression, so that sharing secret information that damages Sweden’s relations with another country is illegal.

In order to criminalise an act of speech – for example, divulging national security secrets – that change in the criminal law needs to be mirrored in a change to the constitutional Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. 

Similarly, in order to criminalise the disclosure of information obtained through espionage, changes need to be made to the constitutional Freedom of the Press Act. 

“They are basically just mirrors of the criminal code, so if you want to make something criminal to say in a newspaper or on TV, then you have to criminalise it both in the criminal act and in those two constitutional media laws,” Ruotsi explains.

Is it concerning that the constitution is being changed?

Ruotsi said that because changing the Swedish constitutional laws requires a vote either side of an election, the four constitutional laws tend to undergo significant changes after every general election.

“They have a specific, very detailed nature, and they need to be kept up to date,” he said of Sweden’s constitutional law. “So there are changes every four years, but it’s not very common that you introduce a new crime or a new criminal sanction.”

Are there any good reasons to be worried about the new law?

One concern around the changes to the constitution is that they may make sources less willing to speak to the media or to pass information about critical matters on to journalists.

While the preparatory work for the new law does include provisions for the sharing of information that is of value to the public, for sources with sensitive information about Sweden’s dealings with other countries, the fear of what Ruotsi calls “criminal sanctions” may compromise their willingness to speak with journalists and with the press.

The law includes what Ruotsi calls a “public interest override” that states that publications or leaks that are “defensible” should not be prosecuted under the law. 

Even though he concedes this is “phrased a lot more vaguely” in the Swedish law than it could be, he argues that the preparatory work for the law makes it clear that this is intended to protect whistleblowers and investigative journalism.

“If you look at the preparatory works, it’s quite clear that they mean to exclude from criminal responsibility things that are of value to the public and in particular the media,” he said. 

“It’s somewhat unclear how this new law will be interpreted, but it’s obvious that the purpose of the law is not to criminalise the Anders Kompass situation, it’s to make sure that if we have Swedish military personnel or other civil servants working abroad on international missions and they turn out to be spies, that we can sanction them. That’s the main idea.”

By Shandana Mufti and Richard Orange

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