“There is disgruntlement in the air”

Perhaps it's schadenfreude. Perhaps it's the anticipation of another myth being shattered. Either way, it is dawning on the world's media that Sweden, the only country in the world to have a whole economic model named after it, could lurch to the right in Sunday's election.

That would still leave Sweden’s politics pretty central by anybody’s standards. But what has changed in Sweden that leaves voters very close to booting out the architects of the country’s legendary high tax, high welfare, high growth system? Has the Swedish model’s beauty faded?

According to The Economist, “there is disgruntlement in the air and it is causing nervousness among the Social Democrats”.

The paper notes that to an outsider, the fact that the ruling party is hanging on by a whisker “may seem like rank ingratitude” given the country’s recent economic performance. But there is a great weakness: unemployment.

“Sweden is a world champion at massaging its jobless figures, which exclude those in government make-work programmes, those forced into early retirement and students who would prefer to be working,” writes The Economist.

That is echoed by the The International Herald Tribune.

“The trump card for the center-right alliance is Persson’s failure to translate Sweden’s remarkable economic growth – 5.5 percent in the second quarter – into more jobs,” said the paper in a recent article.

But the IHT also argues that the opposition Alliance’s careful positioning has given it “the best chance in 12 years of retaking the government”.

“Part of the reason is that the four opposition parties have overcome internal bickering, campaigning ahead of Sunday’s elections as a united alliance for the first time,” wrote the IHT, continuing:

“They also have toned down their conservative agenda. Gone are calls for sharp cuts in the world’s highest taxes, welfare cutbacks and a determination to battle unions over workers’ rights.”

British paper The Observer points to the softer image of the main opposition party, the Moderates, and their leader Fredrik Reinfeldt:

“Reinfeldt…has clawed his way from the free-market wing of his party to its centre. Nursing a casual T-shirt and jumper look in the party’s publicity pictures and declaring himself an Abba fan, he makes much of being a father of three who likes a clean home and draws up efficient grocery shopping lists.”

The paper appeared to be one of those surprised by the number of Swedes who, one way or another, are not working, noting that “an astounding 547,000 Swedes between the ages of 16 and 64 draw early retirement pensions, 12,000 of them under 24”.

Meanwhile, the BBC says that “Swedish tolerance has been strained in this election campaign, marred by a scandal involving some opposition Liberal Party activists who hacked into the Social Democrats’ computer system”.

The Liberals’ crisis appears to be receding into the background now, as election day looms. But the BBC notes that “many observers still expect the race to be uncomfortably close for the Social Democrats”, suggesting that a German-style “grand coalition” is a real possibility.