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EXPLAINED: What does the Liberals’ switching of sides mean for Sweden’s next election?

The leaders of Sweden's minority Liberal Party have voted to stop propping up the country's red-green coalition government and campaign alongside the centre-right Moderate party in the run-up to next year's September general election. But they're not pulling their support just yet. We explain what's going on.

EXPLAINED: What does the Liberals' switching of sides mean for Sweden's next election?
Liberal leader Nyamko Sabuni. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

What happened on Friday? 

The Liberal Party’s 27-member leadership board narrowly voted in favour of leaving the so-called January Agreement after parliament has voted through the budget for 2022, and to then campaign for a new Moderate-led government ahead of the general election in September 2022. Of the members, 13 voted to rejoin the centre-right bloc, eight voted against, and two abstained. 

How significant is this as a move? 

“I think it could mean a lot. And it could mean not very much,” Nicholas Aylott, associate professor at Stockholm’s Södertörn University, told The Local.

“It could mean that a government of the right over which the Sweden Democrats has influence is made that much more realistic a possibility after the next election. But it might mean very little if the Liberals don’t now recover some of their support and end up outside parliament anyway.”

What is the support agreement the Liberal Party have decided to leave? 

In January 2019, the Centre and Liberal parties struck the January Agreement with the Social Democrats and the Green Party, ending four months of post-election deadlock and thereby granting the Social Democrats’ Stefan Löfven another term as prime minister. 

In exchange for not voting against Löfven, the two centre-right parties extracted painful compromises from the Social Democrats, forcing them to push through tax cuts for the richest and reforms to the country’s first-in, first-out labour laws. 

The two centre-right parties had campaigned in the 2018 election as part of a four-party Alliance with the Moderate and Christian Democratic parties. 

The parties defended their decision to break the centre-right bloc by arguing that the alternative, supporting Moderate party leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister, would have led to a government dependent on the support of the populist Sweden Democrats. 

How will the decision impact the government? 

In the short-term, not much. In January, Liberal leader Nyamko Sabuni was threatening to leave the January Agreement immediately if the government did not pull back additional proposals to a planned new migration law agreed with the pro-immigration Green Party. This would have made the government unable to pass the budget for next year, leading to a government crisis and early elections.

The Liberals have not yet given any details on how Friday’s decision relates to its earlier threat, but it now looks unlikely that it will go through with it, if the new migration law still includes the clauses it opposes when published in April. 

Instead, by waiting until after the budget has been passed towards the end of the year, the Liberals are effectively allowing Löfven to complete his second term, and avoiding a snap election (which could well have meant the end for them as a party). 

In the longer term, what is more significant is the signal the Liberals have sent, that unlike in 2018, they are now willing to support and even partake in a right-wing government that is dependent on the support of the Sweden Democrats. 

In interviews after the decision, Sabuni argued the Sweden Democrats were equivalent to the Left Party, which has long supported Social Democrat governments. 

“My analysis is that no government can be formed without having to at least have a relationship with one of the outer fringe parties,” she told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper after the decision. “We will from now on negotiate with all parties in parliament and look for a majority where we can find it.” 

If her party wins more than four percent of the vote next September, this may be enough to make Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson prime minister. 

How will the decision impact the Liberal Party itself? 

The Liberal Party has been polling consistently under the four percent threshold to enter parliament since the January Agreement was reached in 2018, and its popularity has declined to under three percent in many polls since Sabuni took over the leadership in June 2019. 

By backing a new right-wing government, it may be able to win some of its lost voters, and gain some new tactical ones. 

According to Aylott, the Liberal Party has struggled to position itself on migration. 

“This is really the party’s fundamental dilemma, the cause of agony over the last three years,” he said. “Migration is something that splits the whole Swedish political spectrum fundamentally, and closely related to that, although not quite the same, is the view of the Sweden Democrats, and that fault line goes right down the middle of the Liberal Party.” 

Jan Björklund, Sabuni’s predecessor, parked the party firmly on the left side of this divide, while Sabuni has chosen to go right. 

Aylott said that the Liberals might now hope to benefit from tactical voting from Moderate and Christian Democrat supporters, with some backing Sabuni’s party just to keep it over the four percent threshold. 

“They’re probably looking looking to attract more centrist Moderate voters who have decided that the priority is to get rid of the left-wing government, but also, probably, to attract strategically voting electors to try to get them to strike above four percent,” he said. 

How will the decision impact the right-wing parties in Sweden? 

The decision furthers the normalisation of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, which was long cut out of political negotiations in Sweden due to its roots among neo-Nazi groups. The party’s leader Jimmie Åkesson has long tried to make his party more acceptable to mainstream voters, claiming a zero-tolerance approach to overtly racist positions. 

Bringing a third party on board may make it slightly easier for the Moderates and Christian Democrats to cooperate more closely with Åkesson after the election. 

Even if the decision succeeds in pushing the Liberals above the four percent threshold, that does not mean the right-wing bloc will gain four percentage points, as many, even most, of the new voters won by the Liberals are likely to come from other parties within the bloc.

As leader of the Centre Party, Annie Lööf has already driven away supporters who strongly oppose immigration to Sweden, meaning few of her supporters are likely to switch to the Liberals after Friday’s decision. 

“The Centre Party has gone after female, urban, liberal, progressive voters – that niche of educated people who live in big cities, who don’t consider themselves as being necessarily of the Left, but feel very strongly about things like racism and inequality,” Aylott argued. “And I think that probably means that the Centre Party won’t suffer too much because of the Liberals’ decision.” 

Member comments

  1. Liberals do not have any kind of their own agenda, they allow big companies to call the shots.

    1. They need compliant worker-drones and the Ruling class Liberals provide them while maintaining lifestyles the drones are not allowed to have.
      We must lower our footprint lest our Betters’ life-styles are impacted and they have to fly coach.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party

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