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Sweden Elects: What we DON’T know about Sweden’s political future

After an election that saw a far-right party reach the edge of real power, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren looks at what we know and don't know about where Sweden's heading next.

Sweden Elects: What we DON'T know about Sweden's political future
Magdalena Andersson when she resigned as prime minister. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT


So, you now have a far-right government in Sweden? a friend from abroad asked me.

Their misunderstanding of Sweden’s post-election landscape, as someone who doesn’t closely follow Swedish politics, is excusable, but despite the rise of the far right, fundamentally wrong.

But what exactly happened in the past week, and where are we heading next?

Here’s what we know and what we don’t know.

We know that the right-wing bloc beat the left-wing bloc, with 176 parliamentary seats versus 173. We know that the centre-left Social Democrats with 30.3 percent of the vote remain the biggest party, as they have since more or less the dawn of modern Swedish political history.

We also know that there’s a new second-largest party in Sweden, after the far-right Sweden Democrats knocked the conservative Moderates out of their spot with 20.5 to 19.1 percent. But they won votes not only from the Moderates, but also from the Social Democrats; 14 percent of their votes came from the former party and 12 percent from the latter, according to SVT.

And we know that Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the Social Democrats handed in her resignation after some of her centre-left allies failed to scramble enough votes for the bloc – despite her Social Democrats actually improving their result compared to the last election.

By the way, if you’re interested in a deep dive into the data behind Swedish politics, including the unusual voter preferences of Swedish teens and who would win if only women or only men voted, I recommend listening to the latest episode of The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast.

What we don’t know, not really, is what happens next.

But today, the incumbent speaker of parliament Andreas Norlén will meet the leaders of the rest of Sweden’s eight parties (he met Andersson last week) to start the process of forming a new government. He is set to hold a press conference at 2.30pm to outline the next steps.

After that, the speaker will give one of the party leaders the task of forming a government. This is where I think my friend got confused, but it is in fact unlikely that the job will be given to Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats, despite his party becoming the largest party of the right. Instead, he’s expected to name Ulf Kristersson of the runner-up Moderate Party.

This is because Kristersson is still the leader who has the greatest chance of gathering enough support on the right for his government – a Sweden Democrat-led government would simply be too much even for those parties who have said they would quite like their support in parliament.

We don’t know which parties are going to be in government in the end, but a coalition of the Moderates and the Christian Democrats is a good guess (that’s what those parties have openly said they prefer). There have been rumours of Kristersson trying to bring the Liberals – the fourth right-wing party – into the governmental fold, but he’ll have a hard time convincing the Sweden Democrats to support such a government unless they get significant policy rewards in return.

The Sweden Democrats came out guns blazing after their election success, insisting on a place in the government. More likely than not, this is a negotiation tactic – they know that it would be hard for Kristersson to get the support he needs from the Liberals for such a government.

But these are all things we don’t yet know.

And we don’t know what real impact the Sweden Democrats will have on immigration policy even with a right-wing government – indeed, even if they themselves were in government.

This is because the margins are still very slim. It would only take two members of the Liberals – a divided party – to deflect for any legislative proposal by a Kristersson government to fall.

But although the Liberals say they want to be the moral conscience of the right bloc, there may be immigration policies on which the parties could find common ground. Their stance on integration has in the past been something that could be described as aspiring to be fair but tough (they proposed language tests for would-be citizens almost two decades ago – a policy most of the parties in Sweden are now in favour of). You can compare their ideas here.

Finally, international media have understandably focused on the election result, but another thing happened last week that could affect the future of Swedish politics even more than the election.

Annie Lööf, leader of the Centre Party since 2011, resigned.

She was long known as the strongest voice against the Sweden Democrats and had aligned her party with the centre-left in order to keep the anti-immigration party from having any influence. This despite the fact that the Centre is quite far from much of the left on key economic issues.

Her departure will bring the divisions between the party’s social liberal and conservative liberal factions to the surface. The party was allied with the right wing (then without the Sweden Democrats) until after the 2018 election, and if they decide to return to the right wing with their 24 seats, it would make a Kristersson government much more powerful. But that’s a big if.

Anyway, that’s a roundup of what we know, but mostly of what we don’t know.

Hopefully things will become clearer in the coming week.

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 as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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For members


Sweden Elects: Two new laws and the first major poll since the election

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: Two new laws and the first major poll since the election


Two new laws which may have a huge impact on a lot of readers of The Local and this newsletter were voted into force in Sweden last week.

The first bill allows the government to hike the minimum salary required to receive a work permit from the current 13,000 kronor (roughly $1,260).

It was put forward by the Social Democrats when they still ran a centre-left government before the election, but the new right-wing government also wants to raise the threshold and Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard said she wanted to do it as soon as possible.

The bill doesn’t state what the new minimum salary should be, but the right-wing parties have previously agreed to set it to the median salary in Sweden, which is about 33,000 kronor. So that’s what it’s likely to be.

In the best-case scenario, if I’m to be extremely generous, a higher salary requirement will help workers from getting exploited. A monthly salary of 13,000 kronor is quite low in Sweden – but on the other end of the scale, 33,000 kronor is fairly high, especially for young people, although some new IT graduates may scrape by. Full disclosure: I certainly did not earn that much when I moved back home to Sweden to work as a journalist.

The second bill launches a reform of the system of coordination numbers (identification numbers given to those who are not yet residents and thus not eligible for a personnummer, the ten-digit code that gives you access to much of Swedish life and admin), which is intended to both reduce fraud and make it easier for foreigners living in Sweden to use digital ID.

I’m keen to see how this one plays out. The personnummer is, like many things in Sweden, great if you have one, a real headache if you don’t.

My colleagues at The Local have taken a look at the impact that the reform of the coordination numbers could have – here’s a link to their article.

In other news

The Swedish government has promised to carry out the first national census in more than 30 years. This article explains what we know about the plans, and when and if it is likely to happen. That motion was passed by chance back in April, after the business minister at the time accidentally pushed the wrong button. I believe the technical term is “oops!”.

The Social Democrats jump ahead in the first major poll by national number-crunchers Statistics Sweden since the election. If an election were held today, 34.6 percent of respondents say they would vote for them – a statistically significant increase of 4.3 percentage points since the election.

The Left Party is up 0.9 percentage points to 7.6 percent.

The same poll sees a statistically significant drop in support for in particular the far-right Sweden Democrats (down 2.3 percentage points to 18.2 percent) but also for the Centre Party and Green Party.

The rest of the changes are not statistically significant, but if you’re interested you can find them all on Statistics Sweden’s website.

The government has been criticised after it decided not to extend a project that awarded state funding to the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism (SKMA) for informing teachers and pupils in lower secondary school about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and racism.

After that story was published by the left-wing ETC newspaper, it’s become increasingly unclear what’s going to happen. The government has said that it will instead present a substantial package this week to combat anti-Semitism, which will also include money earmarked for the SKMA.

So we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll get back to you next week.

What’s next?

The court is expected to pronounce the verdict and sentence against Theodor Engström tomorrow. The 33-year-old Engström is accused of (and has pleaded guilty to) murdering psychiatrist Ing-Marie Wieselgren at Sweden’s political festival Almedalen Week earlier this year. 

The prosecutor during the trial urged the court to sentence him to life in jail for what was also described as a terror offence, designed to instill fear in the Swedish public. One of the other intended targets was Centre Party leader Annie Lööf, although Engström was caught before attacking her.

The defence on the other hand argued that as Engström was affected by a serious psychatric disorder at the time of the murder he should instead receive forensic psychiatric care, specialised care for convicted criminals.

On Sunday, the leaders of Sweden’s eight parties will go head to head in the first major televised debate since the election.

They were supposed to have appeared last Sunday, but both Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson caught colds, so it was postponed.

You can watch it here (in Swedish) and don’t quote me on this but I believe it will be available to watch wherever you are in the world, not just in Sweden.

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