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Social Democrats face identity crisis in wake of election disaster

AFP/The Local · 22 Sep 2010, 11:58

Published: 22 Sep 2010 11:58 GMT+02:00

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The traditional left's slump in weekend elections has rocked the political scene in Sweden, where Social Democrats were instrumental in putting in place the so-called "Swedish model".

"The Social Democrats no longer symbolise the Swedish model," says political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren.

"They've lost their magic, they don't know how to tell the story of that model anymore," the well-known commentator with left-leaning sympathies told AFP.

While overshadowed by the electoral breakthrough of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, the Social Democrats' catastrophic electoral performance represented a no less spectacular upset in Swedish politics.

Sweden's governing party for most of its modern history, the Social Democrats in Sunday's vote obtained their worst score since 1914. The Swedish press called it "the end of an era" for a party now "just like any other one."

"For whoever grew up in Sweden in the second half of the 20th century, power was almost synonymous with one political movement: social democracy," leading daily Dagens Nyheter (DN) wrote in its post-election editorial.

Long stretches of power by some Social Democrat prime ministers look more like reigns than political mandates, such as the 23 years of Tage Erlander (1946-1969) or the 11 years of Olof Palme (1969-1976 and 1982-1986), whose assassination traumatised the country.

Founded in 1889, the Social Democrat party has governed Sweden for more than 80 percent of the time since 1932.

Up until the mid-1990s, the Social Democrats would routinely garner around 45 percent of votes. The party won 30.9 percent of the vote on Sunday, five percentage points down from its 2006 result, considered at the time a political disaster.

"They have to find a new identity," Peter Wolodarski, the head of the political section of Dagens Nyheter, told AFP.

"They have to look back on their own history to see why they were so popular in Sweden," he said.

When the Social Democrat party was founded, Sweden was one of the poorest countries in Europe, and more than a quarter of its population sought relief from poverty across the Atlantic.

By basing itself on the already in place supportive and egalitarian communities of Nordic Protestantism, the Social Democrats quickly became a major force.

In a few decades, the party contributed to turning Sweden into one of the world's richest -- and most egalitarian -- countries.

"The biggest reason (for their success) is that they were not only popular among the workers, but also among the middle class," Wolodarski said.

"But that is no longer the case," adds commentator Ljunggren.

The move towards the centre of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's Moderate Party, which is now inching up to the Social Democrats as the country's largest party, cost the socialists a large chunk of the middle class vote, both experts agree.

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Reinfeldt's centre-right coalition won Sunday's vote although it fell short of an absolute majority in parliament.

Observers also say that the Social Democrats electoral alliance with the Greens and the former communist Left also clouded the electorate.

Sweden seems to be on the path of neighbouring Denmark, which was also a longtime social democrat bastion, but since 2001 has been governed by the centre-right with the support of the far-right in parliament.

On Wednesday the Social Democrats' top brass are to meet to analyse the reasons for their electoral debacle. Some have blamed their leader, Mona Sahlin, who has said she will stay on despite failing to become Sweden's first woman prime minister.

"She might be part of the problem. But it is certain that she is not the only problem," Ljunggren says.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:06 September 22, 2010 by McChatter
Firstly, Mona Sahlin was not the first choice as leader in 2006. Göran Persson slammed her directly after she became leader. In the 4 years between 2002 and 2006 Mona Sahlin has done very little to renew the party or to produce new policies. Last week she sounded just like Reinfeldt; same promises etc. It was hard to see a difference between them. A case of political bankruptcy.

Secondly, Mona will have to stay on as leader for a while - not like Persson who jumped off the day after his defeat in 2006 - for the simple reason that there is no logical successor. Wallström is at the UN and will go to Lund University in 2012. Bodström will probably go to the USofA or become a full-time writer. (Isn't he that already? He's hardly ever in Parliament).

In 2010 the Socialists went into the elections with a definitive tie with the Communists, a thing they did not do in 2006. It was never clear what kind of a role Ohly was going to have. She could hardly appoint him Secretary of State for Sami affairs, he would need an important post. But what? The tie with Vänster will probably have cost her votes.

Thirdly, and finally, the poor woman has no charisma, no visions and no leadership capabilities and excelled in vagueness. Now she wants to stay on to fight the SD! If the worst happens, the MP will join the Alliance government, Vänster will choose to go its own way and (S) will be isolated. Time for some big red brooms!
21:33 September 22, 2010 by Argentina84
What I did not like about the Social Democrats' campaign was the fact that they never talked about their own projects but based their campaign on their criticism of the Alliance's policies. That's not a good strategy.
05:57 September 23, 2010 by Bork
#1 and #2 make good points.

I think the Social Democrats have ruled so long they only know the status quo (it was their government), and to define themselves distinctly is a new challenge for them. Why should the middle class vote for them? They need to make it clear what they offer that is better. They should consider adopting stronger "green" policies, taking a stand against neoliberalism, increasing employment, and addressing the influx of refugees and immigrants. The latter hurts one of their strongest points, income equality and welfare, because they are seen to be consuming larger and larger portions of the working adults taxes (since the work isn't there for them and the government is quite generous to refugees). The Left Party needs to distance itself from old style Communist countries. Hardly anyone has a positive view of them anymore. What's missing is a libertarian minded socialist/communist voice, with a focus on decentralization, civil liberties, and creativity. Sahlin has to go.
07:59 September 23, 2010 by flintis
@Argentina84: I agree it was very childish & did them (S) no favours. The Social Democrats have lost there way & will have to wait at least another 4 yrs.

@Bork: as soon as you mention socialist/communist people become suspicious & you immediately alienate at least 75% of the electorate. In todays society more Liberalism is required.
09:55 September 23, 2010 by Bork
They don't need to use the words "socialism" or "communism". Rather, that they want an egalitarian society, with high employment rates, in which workers have greater input in the places they work. The social welfare is needed to protect the less fortunate in society as well as the young and elderly. An increase in income inequality only brings about more crime, homelessness, poverty, and decreasing wages for the middle and lower class. That said, it's increasingly harder to argue for these things when the less fortunate in society are seen as outsiders who are leeching off of native Swedes money (taxes). At the same time, the newcomers feel isolated, bored and hopeless in terms of finding work, so they grow hostile towards Swedes. The refugee situation has to be controlled, as well as EU immigration, or else the left parties will not earn the majority of Swedes understanding.
14:07 September 23, 2010 by flintis
@Bork: Let's keep it laymans language for the majority, by egalitarian do you mean a "Democratic" classless society or a "communist" classless society?

All well & good having high employment rates, but when you have nationalised all the industries you will find that only about 60% of the workforce are productive for about 40% of the time unless, of course it's a authoritarian egalitarian society like Lenins Russia. In case of the latter that would be the end of the democratic society in which we live.
16:56 September 23, 2010 by Bork
Where do you get those percentages from? Of course people are going to be more "productive" when they're doing the work 2, 3, 5 people were doing before, but it doesn't mean that's what needs to be the standard. It only benefits private companies. No worker is going to be 100% productive all the time. People need to be able to contribute to the society they live in. If the jobs aren't there, they can't contribute, the productive potential of these people for Sweden is lost and they become a burden on the rest of the country. You can eliminate social welfare, have overworked people, high unemployment, but then you're looking at crime and homelessness galore.
07:29 September 24, 2010 by flintis
@bork: You've been reading one of those surveys or maybe the study of a college professor who does not know the meaning of the word "work". There are thousands of studies as to productivity of a work force, the most productive worker is only productive for circa 70%, my figures refer to the "working day" 8 hrs, not 24hrs.

Maybe a bit before your time, in the UK up to the mid 70's most of the major industries, coal mining, steel manufacturing, railways, dockyards & more, were Nationalised Industries, from experience of working in 3 of these industiries, I can guarantee my figures will not be far wrong. Not all people are interested in contributing to society, you must remember we are a selfish race.

Nationalising industries may give more jobs but it also leads to lethargy, depression, illness, absenteeism etc among the workforce & eventually rebellion against the repressive system.

Read your history books & talk to former "manual" workers over 75yrs old, maybe you will learn something about Communist Socialism.
08:47 September 24, 2010 by Bork
I'm not interested in centralized state economies and nationalized companies and industries. I am interested in people having jobs who need and want them. As I mentioned before, it's decentralized. Look at worker run companies such as Mondragon Corporation in Spain. Your evidence is anecdotal. You knew lazy people. I know lazy people at work and I've only worked for private companies. It's better to be around some lazy workers than having people sitting around at home, with nothing to do but wander the streets, harass people, and get involved in black market crime.
09:21 September 24, 2010 by flintis
Nothing unreliable about the evidence, it's based on fact. I've been involved in several t&m studies.

Lazy workers cause unrest among the majority. Comments such as, "he/she gets paid the same as/more than me for doing nothing, so why should I make an effort" unfortunately it cannot be ignored.

Mondragon is a fine ideal & works well for the people involved.

As I stated previously "not everyone is interested in contributing". As for people sitting around at home or wandering the streets etc, that's down to poor social politics.
15:10 September 24, 2010 by skatty
Actually, most of parties look like social democrats and mostly in the middle, no wonder 'S' feels identity crisis, when everybody have almost the same identity!
21:45 September 24, 2010 by Taxalien

Within the established parties this is a well accepted fact. They are all socialdemocrats. The problem for SAP is that they did not have any edge on the other parties. Normally this edge came from their track record as being in government or because they had leaders that appealed more than the other party leaders.

In this election they had absolutely nothing.

Mona will be pushed quickly or she will latch on and you'll see the people giving SAP record low confidence numbers.
12:30 October 13, 2010 by Sam1
I think Social D must find balance and stop being one sided like SD is one sided and moderates are one sided ...Social D was perfect but they should have paid attention to working Sweds too..
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