Take a (second) chance on me! Swedish PM faces a redrawn political map

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STOCKHOLM — Magdalena Andersson’s back — and hoping to return her Social Democrats to their glory days.

Andersson was named Sweden’s prime minister for the second time in five days on Monday, after lawmakers accepted her plan to lead a single-party government. Her first go at the top job — at the head of a two-party coalition with the Greens — lasted just seven hours last Wednesday. She now plans to strike issue-by-issue deals with a disparate range of allies to drive forward an agenda focused on criminal justice and welfare reform as well as environmental protection. 

“We have the biggest group in parliament and a long tradition of working with others,” Andersson told reporters in parliament after being unveiled as prime minister for the second time. “We are willing to do what it takes to move Sweden forward.”

But she faces stiff challenges, just 10 months out from a national election.

Unlike Göran Persson, the last Social Democrat to lead a single-party Swedish government, Andersson must navigate a political map redrawn by the emergence of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD). 

When Persson led Sweden for a decade until 2006, the SD was a fringe movement, cast as pariahs by the mainstream parties because of its neo-Nazi roots. 

But since entering parliament in 2010, the SD has built robust backing for its anti-immigration position and now commands around 20 percent voter support according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls.

Support for the Social Democrats, meanwhile, has dwindled to 27 percent from around 40 percent in Persson’s heyday, meaning it remains the most popular party, but only just.

SD leader Jimmie Ã…kesson has said his party will do all it can to dislodge Andersson in favor of her main rival, center-right Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson, at an election next September.

Outside parliament Monday, Åkesson described attempts by the Social Democrats to build support for their policy platform as “completely chaotic.”

In a speech before the vote, Moderate Party leader Kristersson pointed out that the loose grouping he leads — three center-right parties plus the SD — only needs one more parliamentary seat than it currently has to take power next September.

“I’m looking forward to election day,” Kristersson said. 

The question now is whether Andersson can recreate some of the old Social Democrat magic in a parliament that is much more fragmented than in the time of Persson and other party giants such as Olof Palme. 

“Single-party governments tend to last longer than coalition governments, so there is reason to think that a government like this could be effective,” Jan Teorell, a political scientist at Stockholm University, told Swedish radio SR. “But we have never seen a single-party government tested in the complex parliamentary situation we have now.”

Nordic lessons

There are some encouraging signs for Andersson in neighboring countries.

Left-leaning leaders now head the governments of all the Nordic countries, and the Social Democrats edged the recent German election.

The progress of the Danish Social Democrats under Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could be of particular interest to Andersson.

Frederiksen’s party bounced back strongly after seeing its support eroded by the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party in the early 2000s, and it took back power in 2019 by combining a tougher line on immigration with a more generous stance on welfare payments.

Such an offer by Andersson could be an effective way for the Swedish Social Democrats to win back working-class supporters from the SD, some analysts say.

But to deliver it, Andersson would need to get her disparate allies on board, and that looks likely to be difficult. 

While the Social Democrats have been willing to tighten immigration controls over recent years, the Green Party in particular has resisted; and though the Social Democrats and Left Party favor stronger labor market protection for workers, the Centre Party has pushed back against such moves.

Such differences came into sharp focus last Wednesday when Andersson was backed by parliament to form a coalition government with the Greens only for that deal to collapse a few hours later when the Centre Party refused to back the government’s budget.

Andersson, who will name her ministers Tuesday, sought to strike a positive note about the outlook for her new team and its ability to get broad enough parliamentary support to push through policies and build momentum with voters ahead of next year’s election.

“Just because other parties disagree with each other doesn’t mean they aren’t going to like the government’s proposals,” she said.



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