Sweden: New elections cancelled

“Peace deal” between government and right-wing opposition

On 27 December, the new general election scheduled for March was canceled. It was replaced by the “December Agreement” between the government (of Social Democrats and Greens) and the four parties from the previous right-wing Alliance government. What does that mean for Swedish politics and the possibilities of breaking with neo-liberalism and cuts?

How could the government and Alliance parties agree, just weeks after the right-wing Alliance, with the support of the racist Sweden Democrats, had defeated the government’s budget?

None of the six parties really wanted to have a new election. The Social Democrats and the Greens did not want to risk their government and the Alliance parties feared backing down even more than in September. The risk was also that the far-right Sweden Democrats would increase their support further. The six parties therefore chose to stick with what they already had.

What would a new election have focused on?

There were possibilities for an important election campaign to be waged against the cuts and austerity that the Alliance government had been carrying out for eight years – cuts in unemployment benefit, pensions and sick pay, privatisations, profits in welfare, cuts in health care, a crisis in housing and more. There was also the opportunity for a fight back against the Sweden Democrats and the racism that they wanted to make a main issue in a new election.

But it quickly became clear that the Social Democratic leader, Stefan Löfven, as in the September elections, was focussing on cooperation with traditional capitalist parties aiming to break the Centre Party and the Liberals from the Alliance. Even the Green Party stressed "extensive cooperation" with right-wing parties, especially on school and education issues.

The chairman of the LO trade union federation, Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, was the first of the Social Democratic leaders to say that it would be best if new elections were canceled and thus pushed things towards a settlement with the right. This was instead of mobilising for an election campaign with policies favouring workers – against privatisations and cuts.

The idea of a new election therefore did not meet with much enthusiasm and was thus easier to cancel.

What have they agreed?

The "December Agreement" is said primarily to ensure that no opposition can block a minority government and its budget. It takes effect in April, when the government is putting forward its Spring budget. Until then the old Alliance’s budget remains in place.

The limited improvements that were in the government’s defeated budget – tax cuts for pensioners, free medicine for children, repeal of the limit on sick leave, more money for the Swedish Work Environment Authority, for the local authorities and for shelters for women – are thus repealed and it remains to be seen what will be re-launched in the Spring budget.

In early December, Stefan Löfven promised to fight for the new government’s budget in the new election. Now he predicts "a certain change of course already in 2015. After that, I have 2016 and 2017 and 2018".

What is "the Swedish tradition" of broad agreements?

Announcing the agreement to hold no general election until 2018, Stefan Löfven emphasised the unity that had been established between the government and the Alliance. He said he was proud of the six parties being "prepared to take responsibility" and holding "constructive talks" about "our country’s development".

Löfven referred to earlier agreements between Social Democracy and the traditional capitalist parties, pointing out in particular the pension agreement. Like all such agreements it means a drastic turn to the right with cuts in welfare provision. The same thing applied in 1992 to the deal between the Social Democrats and the right-wing Bildt government during the financial crisis which involved major social cuts.

Historically, the labour movement has achieved major reforms through political movements and class struggle, not through negotiations with the Right and the bosses. Universal suffrage and reforms such as holidays, pensions and rising living standards were won against tough opposition from the bourgeoisie.

Will the Alliance parties’ influence increase or decrease?

The "December Agreement" points out three areas of cooperation between the government and the Alliance:- defence and security, pensions and energy policies. Military expenditure and power supply are classic issues of concern for the capitalists and the right-wing parties. The pension settlement in the mid- ‘90s meant a deterioration in pensions and was the crowning austerity policy of the 1990s. Now, in early January of this year, the government has already appealed to the right-wing parties for a common solution of the crisis in education.

Despite promises by the opposition, no future spending plans are secured. "If the Social Democrats and the Green Party present a terrible budget we still have the ability to over-ride it. Therefore, we will tell you how we will act when we have seen the contents of Löfven’s budget” is what someone close to the Alliance leadership told the newspaper ‘Expressen’.

Where will the Alliance go?

Stefan Löfven has not managed to split the Alliance, but instead had to make an agreement with all four right-wing parties. The budget vote in December showed that the four Alliance parties do not hesitate to seek support from the racist Sweden Democrats. Right after the SD’s notorious racist press conference, a happy Liberal Party leader smiled and said their budget would get through.

The most important effect of the development in December has been the Christian Democrats announcing a change in their policy on refugees which was an attempt to imitate the Sweden Democrats. The other Alliance parties are now preparing their own proposals in the same direction. Local representatives of the Conservatives and the Liberals praised the new line of the Christian Democrats.

Some right-wing commentators would have preferred new elections, to establish a new Alliance government, even with the support of the Sweden Democrats. The big capitalists and their parties, however, did not want confrontation and instead want to use and discredit Social Democracy further. They feared an increased political temperature in the election campaign, with protests against racism and austerity, and hope the cancelled elections will lead to a period of calm.

What does the deal mean for SD and racism?

In the short term, the Sweden Democrats have lost the opportunity to play a major role in parliament. But all the factors that have given racism a breeding ground remain:- uncertainty in relation to the future caused by increased inequality and cuts plus the lack of an anti-racist movement that offers a real alternative.

The media has also further portrayed the Sweden Democrats as a ‘normal’ party during the debates in December. Their leaders have been given a lot of space to present the party as an alternative to the other parties, while the SDs in fact, in addition to their racism, stand for traditional right-wing social and economic policies. With this agreement among all other parties, it will give possibilities for the Sweden Democrats to increase its support further.

Anti-racism campaigning continues to be a major task for all grassroots organisations, trade unions and social networks during 2015.

What about the Left Party?

The fact that the Left Party did not get any real increase in support in 2015 is due in large part to the leadership adapting the party for its partnership with the Social Democrats and the Greens. The Left Party got through some limited reforms in the budget which was presented (and then defeated). But just like the Greens, they thus also accepted financial rules which mean that the public sector’s share in the country’s economy continues to decline. This means that welfare spending does not receive the necessary resources while the military has received significantly more resources. The main profile issue of the Left Party – ‘no to profit in welfare’ – is now buried in a research project which will be ready only in 2016. The Left Party has put forward no strategy on this issue apart from one of ‘wait-and-see’ and this despite all the obvious austerity implications of the new cooperation between the government and the Alliance. Instead, the Left Party has welcomed the ‘December Agreement’, saying they did not want new elections.

What does Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) stand for?

Sweden’s workers and youth need an opposition from below and from the left. There is a large swathe of public opinion against profits in welfare, chaos on the railways, precarious jobs, the huge bank profits, the housing crisis, cuts in health care and in local government spending. The question that has rallied the most support for protests in the past year has been the fight against racism.

All these issues need to be brought together in a common struggle, meetings and demonstrations. The railway workers’ strike in the south of Sweden in June last year for secure jobs will be followed by more strikes and protests that are necessary to reverse the trend towards austerity and create alternative action programmes. Around Europe new left-wing forces are setting an example for anti-racists, socialists and grass roots activists. The building of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna – the party’s socialist programme and its cooperation with others in struggle and in networks – is a vital contribution to the development of a new workers’ party.

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January 2015