Sunday, September 19, 2010

Far-Right Kingmakers Following Swedish Election

For proponents of proportional representation all over the globe, Sweden has always been held up as a paragon of virtue. Stable majority coalition has followed stable majority coalition. The fact that Sweden has become a de facto two party system (with The Alliance and the Red-Green Coalition being the only choices) is largely ignored by PR's advocates. Yes, there are seven different ways of choosing one or the other but at the end of the day only two people could become prime minister after yesterday's vote: the incumbent New Moderate Fredrik Reinfeldt or Social Democrat Mona Sahlin. The winner last night was Reinfeldt's alliance which won government with fewer votes than the Social Democrats, because he is part of a larger coalition. However, Reinfeldt has a major headache in the form of the upstart Sweden Democrats. The far-right party broke through the low 4% threshold which kept them out of parliament in 2006 and look to hold 20 seats in the Riksdag. With The Alliance 3 votes short of a majority, the Sweden Democrats hold the balance of power in their xenophobic hands. While they are apparently vowing "not to cause trouble," what Reinfeldt will need to do to either get their support or the opposition's support will be interesting to say the least.

The Sweden Democrats earned no more than 11.2% in any region of the country. Their largest support came from areas in southern Sweden with high levels of immigration from Muslim countries like Somalia and Iraq. Still, with such low levels of support, they would never have won election in a single member plurality (or what is dismissively known as first-past-the-post) system. A proportional system, like the version of MMP used in Sweden, encourages the growth and continued success of these small fringe parties. Once elected, you can never guarantee that the electoral calculus won't break down like it has in Sweden: with the radical fringe holding the country's future in its hands.

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