Too many cooks?

At the latest count, voters at the next Swedish election will have a choice between at least ten political parties.

They can choose between a feminist party, a Eurosceptic party and a healthcare party as well as the usual assortment of conservatives, liberals, socialists and communists. But which party should Eurosceptic feminists vote for?

More importantly, is all this choice obscuring the point of democracy – electing someone to run the country?

According to a new opinion poll, the Eurosceptic June List, which today has no representation in parliament, would win 4.8 percent of the vote in a general election – more than the Left Party or Christian Democrats, which hover perilously close to sinking below the 4 percent barrier that they need to pass to get into parliament.

Why is this a problem? More parties means more choice, and if a party doesn’t get enough votes to get into parliament, then that’s the will of the people.

But this depends what you think politics is for. If you think that politics is about getting your face on the front pages and making a fetish of single issues, then the Feminist Inititative and the June List are a great thing.

However, for those of us who think that politics is about making a difference – about power – then this proliferation of small parties splintering the vote is only going to achieve two things. It will mean more parties risk slipping below 4 percent, and it will distract debate from the main issues.

It also forces parties that are actually relatively close to each other, such as the four conservative-liberal parties, to artificially accentuate their differences in order to maintain their share of the pie.

Small parties that do get in – like the Left and Green parties in the current parliament – simply end up blackmailing the larger parties and claiming more influence than their paltry electoral support gives them a right to. This gives a party whose leader calls himself a communist and which calls for a six hour working day a veto over the budget.

And the fact that the communist opinions of a man whose party commands less than five percent of the vote – or that the machinations of such a marginal party as the Feminist Initiative are considered important – is a sign that the system is not working.

Surely fewer political parties would improve the quality of the political debate? There certainly seems to be room in the long term for mergers within the right-wing Alliance. On the Left, the time is coming for Social Democrats to decide whether a more formal Alliance with the Greens (as the Greens are demanding) might be appropriate.

Perhaps even raising the threshold for parties to get into the Riksdag could work in the long-run. A threshold of five or six percent would force some of the parties into mergers that would make them focus on their similarities, not their differences.

This would also focus voters’ minds on the only question that matters at election time: who do you want to lead you?

Does Sweden have too many parties? Discuss!