Background to Sweden’s December Agreement

About two weeks ago, Sweden’s minority Green-Social Democratic government was on the verge of collapse, with the prime minister expected to call a snap election to resolve the parliamentary deadlock.  Instead, the government signed a deal with the main opposition parties that secured the government’s survival.

In this post, I provide a bit of background on the situation.  The results of the general election in September 2014 were as follows:

Party* Vote % Vote± Seats Seats±
Swedish Social Democratic Party (S) 31.01 +0.35 113 +1
Moderate Party (M) 23.33 −6.74 84 −23
Sweden Democrats (SD) 12.86 +7.16 49 +29
Green Party (MP) 6.89 −0.45 25 ±0
Centre Party (C) 6.11 −0.44 22 −1
Left Party (V) 5.72 +0.11 21 +2
Liberal People’s Party (FP) 5.42 −1.63 19 −5
Christian Democrats (KD) 4.57 −1.03 16 −3


The results were notable for the electoral success of the Swedish Democrats, a right-wing, anti-immigration, populist party.   Whilst one can’t make definitive diagnoses on the basis of aggregate statistics, the results are consistent with thesis that the SDs siphoned off support from the centre-right Moderate Party, and to a lesser extent from the 3 other “bourgeois” parties (the Centre, Christian Democrat and Liberal parties).

The election left the SDs in a strong parliamentary position, but what made them pivotal was the coalitional rigidity of Swedish politics.  Post-war Swedish politics has run mainly along left-right lines, with a left bloc, comprised of the Social Democrats (S), the Left (V), and (more recently) the Greens, facing off against a right or “bourgeois” bloc, comprised of the Moderates (M), Christian Democrats (CD), Liberal (FP) and Centre (C) parties.  Not since the 1950s has a coalition been formed across these blocs.  Instead, Sweden has been governed by either Social Democratic minority governments (supported by the Left & Greens) or bourgeois coalitions (M+C+FP+KD).  Neither bloc emerged from the 2014 election with enough seats to form a majority and neither bloc wanted to coalition or cooperate with the SDs, who were cast as unacceptably far-right extremists. All this left the SDs in a pivotal position.

A minority coalition with the Greens, and outside support from the Left, was sufficient to carry the Social Democrats into government and secure the premiership but nonetheless left them 16 seats shy of a majority.  The Swedish constitution does not require governments to win a vote of investiture.  Instead, the government demonstrates that enjoys the confidence of the Riksdag by passing a budget.  By custom, the opposition submits an alternative budget.  This is akin to the Westminster tradition of the government’s throne speech and the opposition’s address-in-reply.  On Dec 3, 2014, the SDs voted against the SD-MP government’s budget and in support of the opposition’s alternative budget. This forced to Prime Minister Löfven to call a snap election… until the December Agreement was reached.

I’ll outline and discuss the agreement in my next post.



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