Moderates surge ahead in poll

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson’s Social Democrats would have been thrown out of office if an election had been held last week, a new opinion poll has indicated.

The survey, conducted by Ruab for Dagens Industri, shows that 31.5 percent of those questioned would vote for Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right Moderate Party. This is three percent more than the party scored in Ruab’s poll in mid-January, and puts the party a whisker ahead of the Social Democrats, who scored 31.3 percent. It is the first time since Ruab started its regular polls in 2001 that the Moderates have come out ahead of Göran Persson’s party.

While the Moderates’ lead may be within the margin of error, the centre-right coalition as a whole has a total of 52.4 percent, eight percent ahead of the Social Democrats and their partners in the Green Party. If these figures were repeated in the next general election in 2006, it would mean a doubling of support for the Moderates from their showing in 2002.

Ruab interviewed 2,079 people last week, following a torrid couple of months for the government, which has faced heavy criticism for its handling of the aftermath of the Asian tsunami disaster, in which over 500 Swedes died or are missing, presumed dead. Göran Persson and Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds’ slow reaction to the disaster provoked accusations of incompetence.

There was also criticism when finance minister Pär Nuder suggested that future Social Democratic governments would raise Swedish taxes, which are already among Europe’s highest.

The Social Democrats’ party secretary, Marita Ulvskog, tried to play down the significance of the poll, saying that the political agenda had recently been dominated by scandals. She told TT that it was now her party’s responsibility to restart a debate about “political issues”.

“I believe that it will be about the classic questions: the fight against unemployment, the quality and scope of the public sector, and conditions for women and the elderly,” said Ulvskog.

Sven Otto Littorin, Moderate party secretary, tried to inject a note of caution, but had difficulty in hiding his delight.

“Gosh, I should be modest and point out that it’s 18 months until the election, but all the same – what wonderful figures.”

The poll showed particular support for the Moderates among women and the over-50s.

“We think that it should be in people’s interest to work, with lower tax and tighter control over benefits,” said Littorin. “Many older people like our message about the work ethic.”

Sources: Dagens Industri, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter

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Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new 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.