Editorial: Predicting the unpredictable for 2006

"You can only predict things after they have happened," said Romanian-French playwright Eugen Ionescu.

The old fellow was no doubt right that prediction is a futile exercise, but then he almost certainly never had to write a column in a Swedish website when the entire Swedish establishment, rather than generating news for hacks to comment on, was on its seemingly never-ending Christmas break.

So, if only to provide Local readers a year from now with a chance to fill the discussion boards with examples of how this column got it wrong, we’ve done a little crystal ball gazing of our own.

The first part of the year will be dominated for most people by two heavyweights battling in what could be one of the most hotly contested votes in recent Swedish history.

The heavyweight veteran contender will compete against the ever-youthful choice of conservative-minded voters for the privilege of being Sweden’s most visible representative on the international stage. Yes, that’s right, it’s back to the future for Melodifestivalen, with Kikki Danielsson taking on fellow chanteuse Carola.

Carola has to be the favourite, bringing back fond memories of her victory in Europe in 1991, and her still well-remembered debut in the contest in 1983. But as her own website admits, while half of Sweden loves her, the other half can’t stand her. So will the anti-Carola votes go to Kikki or to an upstart? The whole of Sweden will be sitting on the edge of its klippan sofas.

And that’s where they’ll stay throughout the summer, as Sweden rampages towards World Cup misery.

With the best Swedish team in a generation, expectations are high and in international football that usually means one thing: disappointment. Everyone agrees that Sweden will probably qualify from their group, and probably behind England. That probably means a meeting with hosts Germany. And that probably means defeat.

The more observant news junkies among readers will be aware that there is an election this year, in September, with the cosy kitchen-table Alliance of Moderates, Liberals, Christian Democrats and the Centre Party currently sailing ahead in the polls.

But are there rockier waters ahead for Reinfeldt and chums? Recent signs have been ominous, particularly when they appeared unable to unite over whether to have a vote of confidence in the government following the hugely critical tsunami report.

On balance, it looks like the four leaders will realise that unity is everything if they are to beat the Social Democrats and get into government. Certainly, if they achieve this, there is everything to play for. But will the smaller parties of the Alliance get nervous about their individual poll scores, and try scoring points off the others? If they do, it could be another four years of Persson.

The prime minister himself is set to swing the formidable Social Democratic apparatus into action, able to call not only on his party but all its client organisations in the trade union movement, desperate to keep the privileged status they enjoy in Sweden under Social Democratic governments.

Persson can also call into play the relatively good state of the Swedish economy, something that has almost gone unnoticed in the political debate. Expect to see more talk of Sweden’s relatively decent growth rate compared to many of its European neighbours and its low unemployment, and yet more talk of how the Moderates are trying to victimise the poor and unemployed in Sweden.

Reinfeldt will continue to drive home the argument that many more Swedes are unemployed than the official figures suggest, and that it needs to be made cheaper to employ people. Expect too more arguments about education, with the egalitarian Social Democrats resisting Alliance attempts to restore more traditional values into education, with more grading and attempts to make schools more selective.

One issue that could damage the Social Democrats is their continued dependence on the Left Party. So far, Persson has managed to avoid sustaining damage from his association with the discredited self-confessed Communist Lars Ohly, but how much longer before he has to answer some uncomfortable questions?

As the election approaches, the focus is bound to shift onto how he will continue to govern with the Left Party, particularly as Ohly is likely to demand a more prominent role in government. If Persson mishandles this, could it push centrist Social Democrats towards the Alliance?

An unknown quantity is the Stockholm congestion charge trial. With the trial due to end in the summer, the future of charging will be decided in a referendum. With 80 percent of Stockholmers currently against it, there is a real risk that the government and its Social Democratic colleagues on Stockholm council will lose, meaning billions of kronor spent on equipment will have been wasted.

Here, though, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Stockholmers will vote in favour of the charge. Not a rebellious bunch, they will swallow the arguments of political leaders and reluctantly allow charging to continue, thus averting another crisis for Social Democracy.

One more relationship set to come under renewed scrutiny will be Crown Princess Victoria’s romance with gym owner Daniel Westling. The will-they, won’t-they saga of their relationship has to be resolved some time soon.

A fierce guardian of her privacy, the princess is certain to deny any plans until the official announcement it made. But Victoria is 29 this year, and has been with 32-year old Westling for some years now. Maybe this will be the year, but if it is the couple will have to overcome concerns that small-town boy Daniel is not prince material.

So the safe money is on a Carola victory, defeat for Sweden in the second round of the World Cup at the feet of Germany and election victory for the Moderates – with perhaps a cheeky outside bet on a royal wedding.

Of course, Ionescu was right. The only certainty is that the news in 2006, just as in 2005 and every year before, will be dominated by the unpredictable.

But whatever this year holds in store, all of us at The Local wish you a very happy 2006!

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