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Monday, September 20, 2010

Sweden's general election 2010: center-right advances, yet apparently loses majority

by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera, Puerto Rico

Despite increasing its overall share of the vote in a general election held yesterday, the four-party, center-right coalition government of Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has apparently lost the narrow parliamentary majority it held since 2006 in the Nordic country's unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag. The ruling Alliance for Sweden - comprised of Reinfeldt's Moderate Party, the Center Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party - scored a clear victory over the "Red-Green" alliance of the left-of-center Social Democratic Party, the ex-communist Left Party and the environmentalist Green Party, but the far-right Sweden Democrats almost doubled their share of the vote and secured parliamentary representation for the first time ever, depriving the government of an overall majority in the process.

Nonetheless, the workings of Sweden's proportional representation electoral system - reviewed in Elections to the Swedish Riksdag (which has preliminary 2010 election results) - also played a role in pushing the ruling parties further away from an overall majority. Specifically, in the first stage of Sweden's two-tier mechanism for distributing mandates in the 349-seat Riksdag - since 1994 elected every four years - 310 permanent seats were allocated in twenty-nine multi-member constituencies among the eight parties that polled at least four percent of the nationwide vote, with the following results:

Social Democratic Party (S) - 113
Moderate Party (M) - 107
Green Party (MP) - 18
Liberal Party (FP) - 17
Center Party (C) - 21
Sweden Democrats (SD) - 14
Christian Democratic Party (KD) - 11
Left Party (V) - 9

Now, while multi-member constituency seats are distributed by proportional representation (using the adjusted odd-number method, also known as the modified Sainte-Laguë procedure), the allocation of seats on a constituency-by-constituency basis introduces significant disparities between the distribution of votes and seats. Thus, the Social Democrats were noticeably over-represented, winning 36.5% of the constituency seats with 30.9% of the vote, while the Left Party, with 5.6% of the vote, came up distinctly under-represented with just 2.9% of the seats.

Nevertheless, the Riksdag also has 39 adjustment seats, whose purpose is to bring about a proportional allocation of parliamentary mandates. To apportion these seats, all 349 Riksdag mandates were distributed on a nationwide basis by the adjusted odd-number method among parties polling at least four percent of the vote, with the following results:

S - 109
M - 106
MP - 26
FP - 25
C - 23
SD - 20
KD - 20
V - 20

The nationwide distribution of Riksdag seats would have left the Alliance of Sweden parties with a total of 174 mandates, or one seat short of an overall majority. However, both the Social Democrats and the Moderates won more constituency seats than the total number of mandates they were entitled to receive at the national level. Both parties kept the extra seats, but their constituency seats were subtracted from the total number of Riksdag seats, leaving 129 seats to be apportioned among the other six qualifying parties. Consequently, the allocation of Riksdag mandates changed as follows:

S - 113
M - 107
MP - 25
FP - 24
C - 22
SD - 20
KD - 19
V - 19

Because the Social Democratic Party won four mandates above the total it needed to be proportionally represented in the Riksdag, the ruling coalition's seat total was further reduced to 172 - three seats short of an absolute majority. In fact, while the Social Democrats scored a very disappointing result - the party's share of the vote fell to its lowest level since 1914 - they nonetheless had a somewhat stronger-than-expected performance and (contradicting most opinion polls) remained Sweden's largest party, albeit just barely ahead of the Moderates, who had their best result since 1914.

Interestingly, the election outcome leaves Reinfeldt's government in a situation very similar to that faced by Sweden's previous 1991-94 center-right cabinet, headed by then-Prime Minister (and currently Foreign Minister) Carl Bildt. At the time, the four right-of-center parties held 170 seats - five short of an overall majority - and the right-wing, populist New Democracy (NyD) effectively held the balance of power with twenty-five seats; Bildt's government lasted out its entire three-year term in office with NyD's tacit backing. That said, at this juncture the Alliance for Sweden parties (or for that matter the opposition "Red-Green" parties) won't have anything to do with the anti-immigration, anti-Islam Sweden Democrats; instead, Reinfeldt's government is attempting to win over the Green Party, which polled its best Riksdag election result ever. However, the Greens don't appear to be interested so far in backing Reinfeldt, who nonetheless will remain in office unless he chooses to step down or the Riksdag brings down his government in a vote of no-confidence.

There's also the possibility that the ruling Alliance for Sweden could secure a narrow Riksdag majority once votes cast by Swedish expatriates or electors voting outside their places of residence are tallied later this week. A comparison of election night and definitive figures for the past three general elections shows small percentage increases for the center-right parties in the final tallies, but this year's election outcome has been skewed by the four extra seats won by the Social Democratic Party at the constituency level, and a slight shift in the nationwide vote totals is less likely to change the distribution of Riksdag seats. As things stand right now, the center-right parties would win a one-seat majority if they captured three constituency seats narrowly won by the Social Democrats in Kronoberg County, in the Municipality of Göteborg and in Värmland County, respectively (over the Moderates in the first case and the Liberals in the latter two).

At any rate, the continuing decline of the Social Democrats - who have ruled Sweden for all but thirteen of the past seventy-eight years - has led to much speculation about the end of an era of Social Democratic dominance. That could possibly be the case, and the party may eventually go the way of its Danish counterpart, which lost its political dominance at the beginning of this century and has yet to recover it. All the same, it should be remembered that following a disastrous result in 2001, the Labour Party in neighboring Norway bounced back in 2005, and has remained in power since then. From that perspective, only time will tell if the Social Democratic Party will continue to lose ground or reverse its declining electoral fortunes.