OPINION: In Sweden's 'Waterloo' election the 'winners' turn out to be the losers

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
OPINION: In Sweden's 'Waterloo' election the 'winners' turn out to be the losers
Swedish pop group Abba, winners of the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 with their song Waterloo. Photo: Olle Lindeborg/Scanpix/TT

The Social Democrats came out top in Sunday's election, with one of their best election results in years. Despite this, the chances of them staying in power seem slim. In this election, the losers are the winners and the winners are the losers.


For many foreigners in Sweden used to different electoral systems, or indeed others following the results of the Swedish election from abroad, the results of this election are strange, to say the least.

The ruling left-wing Social Democrats, who have been the largest party in every Swedish election for over 100 years, took the largest share of the vote in the preliminary count (final results are expected on Wednesday, at the earliest): 30.5 percent, an improvement on the 28.3 percent they received in 2018.

The Green Party, part of the same left-wing bloc as the Social Democrats, also increased their share of the vote since 2018, gaining two extra seats - impressive for a party which as recently as two days before the vote was worried as to whether it would achieve the 4 percent threshold to stay in parliament.


Despite this, the two parties look like they will be in opposition to a government led by the Moderates, who appear to have had their worst election result since 2002, even losing their status as Sweden's second-largest party, a position they've held since the 1980s.

The biggest winner in Sunday's vote - Jimmie Åkesson's far-right party the Sweden Democrats – may also turn out to be losers. The party took 20.6 percent of the votes, according to preliminary results and gained 11 seats on their 2018 result, but the other parties in their right-wing bloc look likely to refuse them ministerial roles in a right-wing government.

Every other party in the right-wing bloc, those will be either leading or supporting Sweden's new government, has ended up with a worse preliminary result than four years ago, with the Christian Democrats on 5.4 percent, down from 6.3, the Moderates on 19.1, down from 19.8, and the Liberals on 4.6, down from 5.5 percent.

Yet, they are the winners. Sweden's new prime minister looks likely to be Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, the leader of a party which just had their worst election result in 20 years.

The only true losers in this election are the Left Party and the Centre Party, who not only have a lower share of the vote than last election, but also appear to be on the losing team.

The 'Waterloo' election

So, is this the Waterloo election, to quote iconic Swedish pop group ABBA? "I feel like I win when I lose"?

Depending on how much you want to read into the lyrics of Waterloo, there's a lot which applies to these election results. The story of someone finally giving in, "I tried to hold you back, but you were stronger ... and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight."

Sounds familiar? Just five years ago, in 2017, the prospect of the Moderates working together with the Sweden Democrats was so controversial that their party leader, Anna Kinberg Batra, was ousted for even suggesting the idea.

Following the 2018 election, and the Sweden Democrat's 17.5 percent vote share (an increase of 4.6 percent on their previous result in 2014), the three other right-wing parties started to accept the fact that they would be unable to lead a right-wing government without the far-right party, whose support has grown in every election since its inception since 1998.

One-by-one, they gave up their former stance of refusing to collaborate with Åkesson's party on ideological grounds and welcomed him into the fold.


"Waterloo, I was defeated, you won the war,
Waterloo, promise to love you forevermore,
Waterloo, couldn't escape if I wanted to,
Waterloo, knowing my fate is to be with you..."

Three years ago, in March 2019, Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch finally opened the door to the Sweden Democrats when she announced her party was open to working with "all parties in parliament".

Again in 2019, the Moderate's new leader Ulf Kristersson also announced that his party would be open to working together with the Sweden Democrats.

Just one year ago, following Sweden's governmental crisis in June 2021, the Liberals switched sides, agreeing to support the Sweden Democrats and finally shifting the balance of power from the left-wing bloc to the right.

And the decision to give in and accept their fate appears to have paid off. Despite all three of them doing worse in the 2022 election than in 2018, they've come out on top.

"So how could I ever refuse?
I feel like I win when I lose"

Let's just hope we're not going be thinking "Mamma Mia, here we go again" in a couple of months.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also