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POLITICS

Don’t write off the government yet

The government may be faltering in the polls, but Social Democrats should not expect the next election to be a walkover, says Nicholas Gregory, an Australian who ran for the party in the 2006 elections.

Despite a small movement in favour of the ruling coalition in recent opinion polls the opposition Social Democrats still have a big lead over the government parties. While certainly pleasing for the opposition, they should try to contain their excitement.

There are a variety of reasons that explain the current lead for the Social Democrats. Their new leader, Mona Sahlin, has given them a boost. Unpopular government policies and a horrendous start to their first term have both dragged down the government’s poll ratings. But it is only early days in the current term and the government should still feel confident that it can turn things around before the election in 2010. The Alliance will grow into the job and bring forward more voter-friendly policies closer to election time.

Moreover, it is common for governments to be unpopular between elections. The psychology of voters is one thing mid-term, and something quite different come election time. It is much easier to be critical of the government when there is no election looming because the voter doesn’t need to cast a ballot. When voters have ballots in their hands they are less likely to use them to punish the government.

This said, since the election the government’s popularity has plummeted. Most new governments come to power with a bit of political capital to spend, but the current coalition seems to have spent much of theirs during the disastrous period directly after the election, during which two ministers were forced to resign. Less than a year after being elected one of the coalition partners has replaced its leader.

It was this start to their term that took the shine off the historic election victory and robbed the new government of much of its political capital.

But the government should take heart in the fact that it will improve with experience. They have been in opposition for a long time. Only three cabinet members have previous ministerial experience. Mistakes are going to be made by such novices but the government will learn and improve. Closer to the election they won’t be making the same mistakes; they will be prepared and won’t be the same easy target they were last year.

Social Democrats seeking succour in the recent promising polls should also remember that it is customary for governments at the beginning of a term to introduce their unpopular policies. Cutting services and pushing up the price of unemployment insurance are examples of unpopular policies this government has introduced. But this is smart politics – get the unpopular policies out of the way early so that they are a distant memory by the time the election comes around, especially if these decisions are translated into economic benefits in the long term.

It follows that unpopular policies early in the government’s term are likely to be followed by more crowd-pleasing measures as the election approaches. Tax cuts or a budget with lots of goodies to buy over voters are probable. In addition to this, as the incumbent the government is in a better position to set the agenda. It can focus the public debate on issues that suit it best. The economy and national security usually work well for right of centre parties, while health and education are issues where left of centre parties are more likely to convince voters.

Another reason to believe the poll results are artificially inflated in favour of the Social Democrats is the fact that they have a new leader. New party leaders usually go through a political honeymoon with voters. They are fresh, more interesting to the electorate and have less political baggage. With time a new leader will make mistakes, support policies that divide the electorate and generally be demystified in the eyes of voters.

If an election were held today, the Social Democrats would win with a landslide. But an election is not being held today. The government will be performing better after four years of experience, they will introduce popular vote winning policies and the opposition will no longer be headed by a fresh new leader. The Social Democrats and their traditional coalition partners cannot expect to cruise to victory; they face a lot of work if they want to grab the reins of power.

Nicholas Gregory was a candidate for the Social Democrats in the 2006 elections to Stockholm City Council

POLITICS

Koran burnings by Danish far-Right extremist no longer causing riots, Swedish police say

Swedish police said there have been no disturbances associated with the Koran burning by Danish far-Right extremist Rasmus Paludan and his party Stram Kurs ("Hard Line") this week around Stockholm, unlike the riots seen over Easter.

Koran burnings by Danish far-Right extremist no longer causing riots, Swedish police say

Paludan and his party have been holding demonstrations this week involving burning the Koran, in what Paludan describes as an “election tour” ahead of standing in Sweden’s parliamentary election in September.

However Swedish newswire TT has reported that few people have seemed to care about the shock tactics used and police have confirmed that no major disturbances have occurred as a result of the demonstrations.

This is in stark contrast to the demonstrations over Easter, which resulted in riots involving vandalism and violence aimed primarily at police. A total of 26 police officers were injured and at least 40 people were arrested.

“The police did not anticipate the extent of the protests and the enormous violence that the Easter riots brought with them. I don’t know if we have seen anything similar in Sweden in modern times,” Sten Widmalm, political scientist at Uppsala University, told newswire TT.

Widmalm says there are now fewer people turning up at Paludan’s demonstrations because of the number of people charged over the Easter riots. He also noted the increased police presence and adapted resources by the police, which has stopped anyone getting close to using violence.

Everyone that TT newswire spoke to a demonstration in Fittja torg, said they knew Paludan’s aim was to provoke people.

“I am a Muslim myself and I don’t care. For a true Muslim, all religions are equal. His message is to create conflict and irritation. You shouldn’t give him that,” Himmet Kaya told TT. 

According to Widmalm, there is nothing to indicate that Paludan will be successful at the Swedish election.

“On the other hand, I think that Stram Kurs has influenced Swedish politics very much in such a way that it has exposed large gaps in society. I think awareness of these has increased, due to the Easter riots – although it’s nothing to thank Paludan for.”

In Sweden, you must be a Swedish citizen in order to be elected to parliament. Paludan’s father is Swedish, and he applied for and was granted Swedish citizenship in 2020.

In order to enter the Swedish parliament, Paludan must win at least four percent of the vote in the upcoming election.

In 2019, Paludan stood in Danish parliamentary elections, achieving only 1.8 percent of the vote. Under Denmark’s proportional representation system, parties must achieve at least two percent of the vote in order to enter the Danish parliament.

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