How Moderate success could doom the Alliance

While Sweden’s Moderate Party basks in the glow of record high support, the struggle by its junior partners for recognition and a unique identity could ultimately spell the end of the four-party centre-right Alliance, contributor Naomi Powell explains.

How Moderate success could doom the Alliance

Ministry posts, electoral victory and above all the power to govern – even if it must be shared. For the political parties in Sweden’s ruling Alliance, the advantages of coalition government are clear.

But as the Alliance moves into an historic second term, analysts say its junior parties – the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) and the Centre Party – must carefully weigh the benefits of cooperation against the costs of living in the growing shadow of prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt’s Moderates.

“Voters ask what do the Christian Democrats stand for today? What does the Centre stand for today?” said Jenny Madestam, a lecturer in Stockholm University’s political science department.

“These are good examples of parties with an identity crisis. The Centre party and the Christian Democrats have during the last four years been selling out their souls for this cooperation. ”

A price may already have been paid, observers say. All three junior Alliance partners lost ground in the last election as support for the Moderate party continued to swell. The Centre party lost six of 29 seats in the Riksdag while the Liberals lost four of 28 seats.

And the Christian Democrats saw five of 24 seats slip away as their share of the popular vote sank to 5.6 per cent, cutting dangerously close to the 4 per cent threshold necessary to enter parliament.

Compare those performances to the Moderate Party’s gain of 10 seats in the Riksdag and an additional 3.83 per cent per cent of the popular vote – enough to bring it tantalizingly close to claiming the title of Sweden’s largest party from the Social Democrats.

For the Christian Democrats, who have faced sinking results in three consecutive elections, the matter of party profile has become “very urgent,” said party press chief Martin Kit.

“We contribute very much to the politics of the Alliance but our share isn’t always visible enough,” he said.

“Everyone is quite aware that we have to do better. We can’t rely on anyone else giving us the credit.”

Claiming a share of the spotlight without unsettling the carefully crafted stability of the coalition will be no easy task, analysts say. Much of the Alliance’s electoral success was due to Reinfeldt’s ability to keep it on a steady track through its first term, said Svend Dahl, a lecturer in political science at Gothenburg University.

The ruling parties have proven willing to compromise and though they may disagree behind closed doors, rarely do ministers present anything other than a united front to the public.

Given previous differences among the individual Alliance parties, this is “quite an achievement,” he said.

“One of the main reasons the Social Democrats were able to dominate was the lack of cohesion among the centre-right parties. They typically spent elections attacking each other.”

But the compromises that have kept the Alliance running smoothly may also be damaging the junior parties’ ability to distinguish themselves to voters, analysts say. With few debates among the parties or outward rifts among members, the lines between them naturally fade. The largest party becomes the coalition’s public face and support for the junior members begins to slip.

Stefan Dahlberg, a lecturer in political science at Gothenburg University, points to the Centre Party’s compromise on nuclear power as a key sacrifice that blurred the ideological divisions between the Alliance partners. An outspoken opponent of nuclear power in the 1970s, the Centre Party agreed with its Alliance partners last year to revoke a ban on new nuclear power plants. The step was viewed as a major concession.

“That really was the only issue unique to them,” said Dahlberg. “Now its policies all resemble the Moderates’. That’s problematic and it’s something they did to be part of this Alliance.”

The Christian Democrats have likewise been less vocal on the issues that once defined them – namely gay marriage and family life, said Madestam.

Michael Arthursson, newly appointed Centre party secretary, questioned the impact of the nuclear power decision on voters. However, those within the Centre party who disagreed with the decision may have spoken less on the party’s behalf during the election, he said.

Though the Centre party needs to strengthen its message, it need not wither behind its senior partner, Arthursson added. Certainly not all junior parties in coalitions fade while the senior partner thrives. Between 1976 and 1982, for instance, the Moderates grew in size while serving as a junior partner in a coalition with the senior Centre Party.

“They talked about their ideas and what they wanted to do,” Arthursson said. “There are ways of doing this. You don’t have to get smaller just because you are small in the beginning.”

One of the spoils of coalition participation – a cabinet post – can be used to raise the profile of a party. In the right hands, the position can establish a smaller party as a leader and a key player in government policy decisions.

“It depends how you play your cards,” said Jonas Hinnfors, professor of political science at University of Gothenburg.

“You need to be passionate, strategic and attract media attention.”

But not all posts are equal. Studies show that smaller coalition parties without a prominent cabinet post are more likely to suffer at the ballot box.

“What we know going all the way back to WWII is that the one way it costs to be in a coalition is in terms of electoral performance,” said Kaare Strom, a professor at the University of California, San Diego who specializes in coalition politics.

“The smaller you are and particularly if you don’t have a prominent minister to represent you, like a Prime Minister or Finance Minister, you tend to do particularly poorly.”

As the Minister for Local Government Financial Markets, Mats Odell played a key role in steering the Swedish economy through the economic downturn, said the Christian Democrats’ Kit. Yet the accolades went to the Moderate Party and in particular, Finance Minister Anders Borg.

“Anders Borg did a very good job, but we also contributed in a big way and I think very few people were aware of that,” said Kit.

Centre Party leader Maude Olofsson’s efforts during the auto crisis as Minister of Enterprise and Energy were also largely overshadowed, analysts say.

“It’s a difficult discussion,” said Per Henriksson, Communications Director, Moderate Party.

“I don’t think we can sit in Stockholm and decide the Moderates should target a particular group of voters and the Christian Democrats should target another.”

Over its next term, the coalition will attempt to make it easier for the junior parties to speak for the Alliance as a whole, he added. At the moment, all parties are reviewing their election results and developing their own platforms. They will then reconvene in the new year to form a central coalition platform.

“All parties need to develop policies and find out what the voters are looking for,” said Henriksson.

“That’s what we’ve been doing in the Moderate Party since Reinfeldt became leader in 2003. The other parties they have done it, but I think they need to do it more.”

With the Moderates firmly in control of the Prime Minister’s office as well as the high profile ministries of finance, defence, justice, and foreign affairs, the opportunities for the junior parties to step out into the spotlight this term could be few and far between, analysts say.

And the flipside of building a niche in a single area – as the Liberal Party has done with education – is “seeming like a single issue party,” said Dahlberg.

“It is problematic,” he said. “At some point they have to ask, what is best: to be a small government party or a bigger party in opposition?”

But the price of breaking rank with a coalition can be dear and when a ruling block splits, it often guarantees victory for the opposition. Indeed, getting out of a coalition can be tough.

“If they leave, they might risk losing voters who are upset that they threatened the Alliance and may have made room for the Social Democrats in the next election,” said Hinnfors.

The spectre of the four per cent threshold makes the issue is even more complicated for the Christian Democrats. In 2006, the party benefitted more than any other from “tactical votes” cast by individuals who would not have supported it if it were in the Alliance, said Dahlberg. Studies show the party would not have made the crucial threshold without these votes, he added.

Still no coalition lasts forever.

“During the second term, the question of identity for small coalition parties will be essential,” said Dahl.

“During the last election, the opposition parties were united by a desire to be elected. That made it possible to accept compromise. Now that that has been achieved, there is potential that the tensions within the coalition will arise again.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


How would the Moderate Party change life for foreigners in Sweden?

The Moderate Party's election manifesto is the longest of all Sweden's eight political parties, and is positively crammed with policy proposals. Here are the ones that affect foreigners in Sweden.

How would the Moderate Party change life for foreigners in Sweden?

You can read the whole manifesto, This is how we bring order back to Sweden (Så får vi ordning på Sverige), here.

How will foreigners hoping to move to Sweden be affected? 

It would definitely get more difficult, with the Moderates planning to reduce asylum migration “the same levels as Denmark and Norway”, which given how hard it has become to get asylum in Denmark should mean quite a substantial tightening of migration rules. 

The party is promising to tighten up asylum laws to minimum level allowed under EU rules, roughly matching the proposals made by the populist Sweden Democrats on Wednesday. 

The party is also pledging to abolish the current spårbyte or “track change” system, which allows those who claim asylum in Sweden and get rejected to instead apply for a work permit.

How will foreigners newly arrived in Sweden be affected? 

Once foreigners have arrived in Sweden, the Moderates are proposing making it much more difficult for them to access financial support from the government. 

The party is pledging to demand that newly arrived immigrants be denied unemployment payments and other benefits until they have qualified for them by working and paying a certain amount of tax. 

The party also proposes to punish immigrants who fail to meet the ‘individual knowledge goals’ set by their Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) teachers by stripping away part of their benefits payments. 

In the manifesto, it says that all “newly arrived” immigrants, or nyanlända, will have to go through mandatory “community orientation” or samhällsorientering, which will focus on Swedish values, with a section on LGBT rights and gender equality. Elsewhere, the party has said this is only for asylum seekers, so it may be that this does not apply to all immigrants. 

Passing a test on Swedish culture and society will be essential for those applying for citizenship. 

The party is also demanding that foreigners wanting to obtain a coordination number appear in person. 

How will foreigners with families be affected? 

Asylum seekers who come to Sweden will have to go through a mandatory process of “honour crime screening” to make sure they do not limit the freedom of or otherwise oppress family members for religious or cultural reasons. 

If they do, they risk falling foul of a new crime, “illegal limiting of freedom”, which the party hopes to bring in during the next mandate period. 

Foreigners with three-year-old children will have to send them for a language screening to make sure that they speak adequate Swedish, and if they don’t, the three-year-olds may be sent to a mandatory ‘language kindergarten’. 

Foreigners who are worried about having their children taken into care by Swedish social services (as some are) will probably have additional cause for concern. The manifesto promises to “make sure that more [people, children] are taken into care under LVU (Lagen om Vård av Unga)”. This is the law under which social services can take children into care.  

“Children who grow up in criminal clans”, will also automatically be taken into care under the party’s proposals, while the “clan members” themselves will be deported. 

Foreigners with big families could also take a hit from the proposal to remove extra child benefit, flerbarnstillägg, after a family’s fourth child. 

How will unemployed foreigners be affected? 

Foreigners who are unemployed look likely to have a tougher time, as the Moderates propose bringing in a “welfare cap”, so that the total amount of welfare payments a person gets can never exceed what they would earn in a job. 

The party also proposes allowing raids on the houses of people living on benefits “to find malpractices”. 

The party also proposes a “full time activity requirement”, for anyone getting government support, meaning benefits recipients must be either studying full time, applying for jobs full time, or else carrying out useful tasks organised in their local area. 

How will those living in Sweden on work permits be affected? 

The party has promised to “stop talent deportations”, or kompetensutvisningar, but does not give any details over how this will be done. 

How will foreigners wanting to live in Sweden permanently be affected? 

The party wants to bring in language requirements for permanent residency and citizenship. 

It also wants to make passing a test on Swedish culture and society mandatory for those applying for citizenship. 

How will foreigners who get into trouble with the police be affected? 

Anyone holding foreign citizenship in addition to or instead of Swedish citizenship risks becoming a second-class citizen under the law in the Moderates’ proposals. 

The party is proposing to deport anyone with foreign citizenship who commits a crime that comes with a prison sentence. 

Foreigners might want to be careful who they hang out with, as any suspected gang members who aren’t Swedish citizens will be deported, “even if they are not found guilty of a crime”.

Anyone without Swedish citizenship who commits an honour crime, presumably including the new crime of “illegal limiting of freedom”, can be deported. 

How might the Moderate Party improve foreigners’ finances? 

The manifesto is chock full of proposals to cut taxes and help ward off the worst impact of the current cost of living crisis. 

The party is promising to cut income tax, although it doesn’t say by how much, and to create a system that adds up tax rises and tax cuts to ensure that the overall tax burden does not increase over the mandate period. 

Foreigners with share portfolios will benefit from the party’s proposals to cut the tax on ISK individual share accounts (Sweden’s version of an ISA). 

The party is also promising to cut the price of petrol and diesel and to bring in “high cost protection” for electricity prices, meaning consumers’ electricity bills will be subsidised by the government if the power price rises above a certain level.

How might the Moderate Party help foreigners who own businesses? 

The party is rather ambitiously promising to remove “three quarters of red tape and admin costs” for companies, which, if you believe it is possible, will certainly help foreign business owners. 

What else do they want to do? 

Here are some of the other proposals we picked out of the document: 

  • Allow shop owners to bar unwanted customers 
  • Create a ‘job bonus’ for long term unemployed who get a job
  • Cut tax for pensioners, and bring in a system which gives pensioners extra money during periods of strong economic growth
  • Remove tax on incinerators generating heat and power 
  • Increase punishment for welfare fraud and set up a welfare fraud unit at Sweden’s benefits agency
  • Stop paying out benefits to extremists
  • Allow police and social services to share more information 
  • Set up a national programme to help people leave criminal gangs
  • Increase punishment for violent and sexual crimes
  • Get rid of reduced punishments for under-18s, and those committing multiple crimes 
  • Make sure there are 10,000 more police by 2028 
  • Spend more on police salaries, and pay off student loans from those who study to be police officers when they start work 
  • Increase number of CCTV cameras
  • Make membership of a criminal gang a crime
  • Double punishments for gang members 
  • Triple minimum punishment for weapons crimes to six years 
  • Stop all welfare payments to gang members 
  • Seize luxury goods held by gang members if they can’t show how they paid for them
  • Allow long-term use of electronic ankle bracelets for persistent criminals
  • Automatic life sentence for murders in close family relations 
  • Consider setting up youth prisons and reduce age where you can be punished 
  • Change long-term goal of energy policy from 100 percent renewable to 100 percent fossil free 
  • Change regulation of nuclear power, removing requirement reactors can only be built on site of existing ones
  • Tell Sweden’s state-owned power company Vattenfall to look into building new reactor at Ringhals
  • Bring in green credit guarantees for new nuclear, bring in state high-cost guarantee for new nuclear 
  • Reduce the amount of protected woodland that can’t be used for forestry
  • Sell “a large share” of state-owned forest to people connected to local areas 
  • Extra schooling in holidays for children who fall behind 
  • Instruct Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention to survey criminal clans in Sweden 
  • Criminalise clan courts and other parallel justice systems 
  • Ban cousin marriage 
  • Establish special “criminal clan division” within Swedish police
  • Increase military spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2025 
  • Scrap Sweden’s goal that aid spending should be 1 percent of GDP 
  • Strengthen healthcare guarantee for cancer patients, allowing them to get treated in other regions 
  • Work towards a constitutional right to abortion 
  • Make sure pregnant women can have same team of midwives from early pregnancy to post pregnancy 
  • Language requirement for those working in health and elderly care
  • Increase school hours by an hour a day in first three years of primary school 
  • Focus on measurable factual knowledge in schools like Finland does 
  • Reduce requirement for teachers to document their activities 
  • Empower headteachers to intervene when classrooms get rowdy 
  • Bring in new crime of “violence against teachers” 
  • Make it obligatory for everyone to choose a school for their children 
  • Give Swedish Schools Inspectorate power to shut schools which lead to segregation and radicalisation 
  • Create a common municipal queue system which includes free schools
  • Scrap plans for high-speed rail 
  • Expand Arlanda airport to make it leading airport in the north 
  • Get rid of protection of coastal areas so new houses can be built on beaches and lakesides 
  • Tighten up responsibility for public officials 
  • Make LGBT and gender equality a crucial part of community orientation 
  • Bring in a “national honour-crime screening” for all asylum seekers 
  • Criminalise virginity tests 
  • Permit unpaid surrogacy in Sweden
  • End limits on blood donation for gay people
  • Ban conversion therapy to change sexual or gender identity