Elections to the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) and kommuner (local councils) take place on the 17th September and heavy gains are expected to be made by the right wing alliance at the expense of both the ruling Social Democrats (SAP), and the Left Party which has been a supporter of the Social Democrat government.
Opinion polls currently put support for the "Alliance for Sweden" (a right wing alliance made up of four different liberal and conservative parties) at 51% with the SAP at 34.1%, Left Party at 5.9% and Green Party at 4.5%. Unlike the right wing alliance, these three left parties have not and do not intend to work together as a formal alliance in government. Rather, the SAP hope to win enough votes to enable them to form a minority government with enough support from smaller parties to have majority support in the Riksdag. Simply put, the SAP, as it has done for the previous two terms in power, takes the support of the Left Party and Greens for granted.
The two largest parties in Sweden bear a strong resemblence to those in the UK. Goran Persson has been leader of a SAP government for twelve years which has drifted steadily to the right. Persson himself currently commands record levels of personal unpopularity. The main conservative opposition (the Moderates) have under the new and younger leadership of Frederik Reinfeldt managed to increase their support through a combination of effective PR and adopting tradtional SAP slogans and issues. The Moderates election advertising campaign features Reinfelt casually dressed and looking slightly unkempt with the slogan "Sweden needs a new workers party". Despite the stealing of each others clothes on a wide range of policies, unemployment is the main political issue that separates the parties. Whereas the SAP makes vague commitments to full employment, in practice they have promised only to increase levels of unemployment benefit. The Moderates on the other hand have proposed to reduce employers contributions to unemployment benefit funds and argue that these savings will help generate more jobs. In reality the unspoken implication is that it will encourage the "lazy unemployed" to look for work.
The Left Party for their part, have said and done little to suggest that they intend to be anything other than passive voting fodder for a SAP government. Despite having a fairly radical election platform (which amongst other things includes creating 200,000 new public sector jobs) in reality their attitude to co-operation with the SAP is the key issue. Whereas the right wing alliance have managed to show a disciplined unity in their election campaign, the SAP and Left Party are at odds on most major policy issues. Yet Left Party leader Lars Ohly still publicly states that his party will unconditionally support an SAP government.
It is fair to argue that Ohly is in a difficult position. On the one hand it is true that a right wing alliance government would be more of an enemy to the working class than the Social Democrats. But on the other, by clearly allying itself to an unpopular government, the Left Party makes itself appear good for nothing. Indeed many young people who have previously voted for the Left Party have said that they intend instead to vote for the Folk Party (liberals) as the “progressive wing” of the right wing alliance or the Feminist Initiative led by former Left Party leader Gudrun Schyman..
Some commentators have even suggested that both the Left Party and Greens could suffer a meltdown at the polls, with a worst case scenario being that neither the Left Party or the Greens manage to reach the 4% threshold necessary to gain representation in the Riksdag. Such an outcome could open the way for far right parties such as the Swedish Democrats to establish themselves as genuine radical alternatives at the next election with many working class voters having already become disillusioned with the left parties, and the right wing alliance unlikely to be the answer to any of their problems.