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SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Social Democrats face identity crisis in wake of election disaster

Limping forward after their worst election result since World War I, Sweden’s Social Democrats find themselves forced to look for a new identify, writes the AFPs Marc Preel.

Social Democrats face identity crisis in wake of election disaster

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.

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.

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NATO

PM: Social Democrats could decide on Nato on May 15th

Sweden's Prime Minister has said that her party has brought forward the date for a decision on Nato membership by ten days, meaning a decision could be in place before a state visit by Finland's president in mid-May.

PM: Social Democrats could decide on Nato on May 15th

The decision had previously been tabled for a meeting of the party board on May 24th, but could now be taken at an extra meeting of the Social Democrats ruling committee on May 15th, Magdalena Andersson said at a press conference on Thursday. 

“We will of course discuss the issue and then we can see if we feel ready to take a decision or not,” she said at a Ukraine donors’ conference in Warsaw. 

She said that the security guarantees Sweden has received from the US and Germany for the period between a possible application and full Nato membership were significant. 

“It means a lot if Sweden chooses to send in an application, that we will be safer during the period up until we become members than we otherwise would be,” she said. 

“The party committee can take a decision then,” Party secretary Tobias Baudin he told Sweden’s TT newswire of the May 15th meeting. 

The meeting will come just two days after the Swedish government’s ‘security policy analysis group’, which includes representatives from all political parties, is due to submit its own reassessment of Sweden’s security situation. 

“It depends on what the security policy dialogue shows,” Baudin says of the decision. “Right now meetings in party districts are going at full pace.” 

The May 15th meeting will take place on the Sunday before the week when Finland’s Iltalehti and Sweden’s Expressen newspaper last month reported Finland and Sweden had already decided to jointly announce a decision to join Nato.

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, is due to visit Stockholm on 17th May and 18 May on a state visit, where he will be hosted by King Karl XVI Gustaf.  

The meeting of the Social Democrats’ ruling committee will come shortly after the party holds three digital members’ meetings on security policy, on May 9th, May 10th and May 12th (although these may also be brought forward). 

There is still resistance in the party’s rank and file, with at least three of the party’s powerful leagues still openly opposed to joining: 

  • The Social Democratic Women in Sweden voted last week to continue its opposition to Nato membership.
  • The Swedish Social Democratic Youth League has said it would prefer Sweden to bolster its security through the EU.
  • The Religious Social Democrats of Sweden has said that it believes the decision should not be rushed through at a time of conflict.  
  • The Social Democrat Students’ League has said that it wants to wait until it has seen the security police analysis before taking a decision. 

None of these leagues can block membership, however. It is the Social Democrats’ ruling party committee which is empowered to take the decision. 

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