Sweden election continues trend of rising/fragmented left, rising far-right

In the last 8 years, Sweden became the economy with the fastest growing income inequality in the industrialized world. Will today’s election reverse that trend?

The ruling center-right coalition pursued not just an austerity agenda, like many of their peers (on both sides of the center) across Europe during the recent crisis, but in Sweden they also pursued an aggressive effort to roll back government services and programs and introduce private sector participation in functions traditionally managed by the state. Although some of the policies were introduced in the 1990s, they were ramped up even more in recent years. In particular, Swedish government attempts to privatize and voucherize public education — along the lines promoted by many right-leaning education “reformers” in the United States — devolved into a mess. One recent poll, by Gothenburg University’s SOM Institute (cited by The Guardian article linked above), found that 70% of the country is opposed to the privatization and corporate subsidy schemes of the current center-right government.

After 8 years in opposition, the Social Democrats are projected to win the most seats in today’s election and take control of parliament via a left-leaning coalition. Their party leader and likely next prime minister is a former welder and union leader who has never even been elected to parliament before. But the irony is that this win (though slightly better than opinion polls had projected) will come with one of the party’s lowest vote shares of any election held after the 1909 reform that granted male workers the right to vote. Why? Despite the broad-based opposition to the current, right-leaning government’s policy agenda, the opposition has been diffuse and did not benefit one party (such as the Social Democrats) alone.

Much of the anger has gone toward the even more leftist parties — such as the Green Party, Left Party, and Feminist Initiative — who will likely join the coalition government with the Social Democrats if they win seats. If any of the outlying left parties don’t meet a minimum 4% vote share threshold — and it appears that Feminist Initiative received less than that — those leftist votes could be tossed out, essentially wasting them, unfortunately. That would be less of a problem if it weren’t for the alarming alternative that might take the seats instead when votes for parties below the threshold are eliminated.

On the other side of the electorate, some of the populist anger in Sweden has further fueled the rise of a far-right, anti-immigrant party, the Swedish Democrats. The racist and inflammatory Swedish Democrats — who have attempted to run ultra-populist ads openly accusing Muslims of stealing resources from the welfare system — had no such trouble hitting their vote threshold to remain in parliament, which they entered for the first time four years ago. Here’s an Al Jazeera report:

With all voting districts tallied by Monday morning, the Social Democrat-led bloc won 43.7 percent of the vote while the ruling centre-right coalition, led by the Moderate Party, gained 39.3 percent.

But the anti-immigration far-right Sweden Democrats were celebrating large gains as the party won 12.9 percent of votes cast – more than doubling the 5.7 percent of votes won in the 2010 election.

“Sweden friends, party friends, now we’re Sweden’s third-largest party,” party leader Jimmie Akesson told cheering supporters late on Sunday.

Neither mainstream party will allow the Swedish Democrats into a coalition government, but with the fragmentation that occurred on the left, and the small size of the non-extreme parties on the right, the Swedish Democrats may hold the balance of power in parliament anyway unless a grand left-right coalition or minority government arrangement is worked out. And that would make no one happy, in light of the rebuke given to the center-right in this election.

As we’ve covered before on this site, European mainstream politics right now are facing a very serious challenge from both a splintering but growing far-left as well as a dangerously solidifying, growing, and extreme far-right.

Although the far-right Swedish Democrats won their first seats in Sweden’s national parliament back in 2010, they also won 2 seats in the EU parliament this year, amid a continent-wide wave of sometimes extreme populism. That EU vote share in Sweden of almost 10% for the Swedish Democrats helped their momentum going into this national election and boosted them to just under 13%. And also like we saw across most of Europe at the EU elections in May 2014, the Swedish centrist parties and center-right parties were decimated in the results tonight, to the benefit of the far-right as well as an umbrella of parties on the left.

I spoke tonight with Etienne Borocco, a national counselor of the Union of Democrats and Independents, a centrist party in France, who previously wrote Arsenal For Democracy’s analysis of the 2014 European Union election results and the rising populist tide (both left and right) in Europe this year. Borocco told me the following about the national election results in Sweden today:

The gains by Swedish Democrats are one more demonstration of European apathy and disaffection. The world is very frightening for Europeans now with the economic/currency crisis and the explosive geopolitical context. Moreover, the welfare state is decreasing because of spending cuts. When you mix high unemployment, downgrading the welfare state, and unresolved asylum issues, you have apathy as the result.

So between apathy with the system / existing parties and enthusiasm among those seeking easy but dangerous answers, we have the left growing but splitting its votes and the extreme right-wing unifying into a dangerous political force. It’s similar to some of what we have seen in recent years in the United States but is perhaps much more visible in a multi-party system with far higher rates of voter participating (in some cases, mandatory). And as he pointed out, the depth and duration of the economic crunch in Europe, crossed with the resulting cutbacks of government spending and jobs, has put a lot of voters in the mood to vote for anybody but the mainstream parties when they head to the polls. That is the space exploited to allow parties like the Swedish Democrats to make big gains.

Parliament House in Sweden. Credit: Holger.Ellgaard via Wikimedia

Parliament House in Sweden. Credit: Holger.Ellgaard via Wikimedia

Replacement MT Senate candidate will take on 1% opponent

Montana-State-Rep-Amanda-CurtisAfter U.S. Sen. John Walsh dropped out due to serious plagiarism, Montana Democrats have selected their new candidate for U.S. Senate this year — a young, progressive, first-term state representative, Amanda Curtis. Placed in a tough spot, the state party has picked an exciting candidate that breaks the mold and gives voters a true choice (and a reason to pay attention to the election).

Here’s some information from the Christian Science Monitor article on her selection by the state convention:

Curtis, 34, is a high school math teacher. She emerged as the front-runner earlier in the week after she received the endorsement of Montana’s largest unions and high-profile party leaders said they weren’t interested in running.

On Saturday, she appealed to working-class voters and portrayed [Republican U.S. Rep.] Daines as being in the camp of corporations and the wealthy. She said her Senate campaign would focus on issues that include campaign finance reform, tax reform and funding for schools and infrastructure that would create jobs.

“This is the worst job market in a generation, but the stock market is doing just fine. Wall Street is doing great,” Curtis said. “This recovery has not reached the rest of us.”

I know we still don’t really have a shot at holding on to this Senate seat. This was losing race even before the fiasco with Walsh, the appointed Senator. After all, State Rep. Curtis isn’t all that well known to voters, as a freshman member of a 100-member state House of Representatives (I think each district has only about 10,000 people in it, though she’s representing part of the City of Butte), even if she has been more vocal than most. (She was noted for some great speeches and a lot of YouTube videos on legislative activity, in 2013.)

Regardless, this is a pretty awesome choice for a replacement, in my opinion, and there’s nothing to lose at this point. If there’s any moment to go all in and just see how far a genuinely progressive message can go, this is it. She’s a teacher with a record of proudly supporting women’s rights, gay rights, and sensible gun control.
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June 9, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 87

Extended Episode. Topics: Right-wing extremism in the US & Europe, FIFA is terrible. People: Bill, Nate, guest expert Etienne Borocco.

Discussion Points:

– Should right-wing violence in America be considered terrorism? Should terrorism be treated differently from other crimes?
– Just how awful is FIFA? Is the World Cup a net harm to host countries and cities?
– How should Europe respond to the rise of neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn?
– Who are the Front National and why are they winning in France?
– Who are the UKIP and why are the winning in Britain?

Part 1 – Nevada Attack:
Part 1 – Nevada Attack – AFD 87
Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87
Part 3 – Golden Dawn:
Part 3 – Golden Dawn – AFD 87
Part 4 – Etienne Borocco on French and UK Populism:
Part 4 – European Elections – AFD 87

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links

– AFD Guest: “EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried” by Etienne Borocco
– AFD: “Cameron making louder “Brexit” noises after UKIP win
– Guardian: “SS songs and antisemitism: the week Golden Dawn turned openly Nazi
– AFD: “Vegas attack was domestic terrorism, tied to Bundy standoff
– AFD: “Alt-history novelists have got nothing on Cliven Bundy
– AFD: “No shock there: Bundy a raging racist
– AFD Radio: “April 21, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 81
– Last Week Tonight: John Oliver explains the mess that is FIFA
– AFD: “2022: Slavery World Cup


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried

Guest post by Etienne Borocco in France: Europe went to the polls last weekend and elected a lot of fringe politicians to the EU parliament. So what does it all mean?

Traditionally, the turnout is low in the European elections: only about 40%. This year, it was 43%. The functioning of the European Union is quite complex, as depicted in the chart below:

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner - Wikipedia)

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner – Wikipedia)

Why the EU elections matter — and why the media and most voters ignore them:

The directly elected European parliament and the unelected Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) co-decide legislation. The European Commission has the monopoly of initiative, i.e. it is the only one to initiate proposals. The European Parliament can vote on and amend proposals and has the prerogative to vote on budgets. If the Council of European Union say no to a project and the parliament yes, the project is rejected. So the parliament is often described as powerless and its work, which is often about very technical subjects, does not hold the media’s attention very much. Consequently, the European elections to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a low turnout – and a lot of electors use it to express concerns about national subjects.

For example in France, 37% of the registered voters answered that they would vote by first considering national issues and 34% also answered that they would vote to sanction the government. The proportional vote system (in contrast with America’s first-past-the-post Congressional elections, for example) gives an additional incentive to vote honestly according to one’s opinion, rather than strategically for a major party (or major blocs of allied parties in the case of the EU parliament).

The May 25th European election was a shock in the European Union, even after the small parties had long been expected to do well. The biggest parliamentary groups in the European parliaments lost seats, while parties that reject or contest the European Union rose dramatically.

In Denmark, in the United Kingdom, and in France, the anti-euro right wing took the first place. It was particularly striking in France because unlike the traditionally euroskeptic UK or Denmark, France was one of the founding countries of European integration and is a key member of the eurozone (while the other two are outside it). The Front National (FN), which has anti-EU and anti-immigration positions, gathered one quarter of the vote in France. Non-mainstream parties captured significant shares in other countries, although they did not finish first.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

The new seat allocations:

Let’s look at the gains and losses. With the exception of the socialist bloc, the traditional parties lost seats — particularly in the mainstream conservative EPP and centrist ALDE blocs, which virtually collapsed. The May 25 European parliamentary elections also marked the notable appearance of new populist right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, among the newer member states. For example, two conservative libertarian parties (movements that are a bit like a European version of Ron Paul) won seats – the KNP in Poland and Svobodní in Czech Republic. Moreover, the national government ruling parties were hugely rejected in most countries, whether by populist fringe parties dominating (as in France, the UK and Denmark) or by the main national opposition parties beating the ruling parties.


Among the non-aligned (NA) members elected, if we exclude the six centrists MEPs of the Spanish UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy), the 35 MEPs remaining are from far-right parties.

Among the 60 “Others” MEPs, there are 3 MEPs of Golden Dawn in Greece and 1 MEP of the NPD in Germany, both of which are neo-Nazi parties. The NPD was able to win a seat this year because Germany abolished the 3% threshold. With 96 seats for Germany, only 1.04% of the vote is enough to get a seat. The Swedish Democrats (far right) got 2 seats. In total, 38 MEPs represent far-right parties, out of a total of 751 MEPs.

So why do observers talk about an explosion of far right?

Beyond those scattered extremists, the vote for the more organized euroskeptic, hardcore conservative, and far right parties all increased sharply. The UKIP in UK (26.77%, +10), the National Front (FN) in France (24.95%, +18), the Danish People’s Party (DPP) (26.6%,+10) and the FPÖ in Austria (19.7%,+7) rocketed from the fringe to center stage. The UKIP, the FN, and the DPP all arrived first in their countries’ respective nationwide elections, which is new.

Other parties elsewhere did not come in first but performed unexpectedly (or alarmingly, depending on the party) well this year. For example, although the Golden Dawn only won three seats from Greece, they did so by winning 9.4% of the country’s vote, even as an openly neo-Nazi party. The Swedish Democrats (9.7%, +6.43) and the Alternative For Germany (7%, new) also made a noteworthy entry in the parliament.

Their shared characteristic of all these parties, regardless of platform and country of origin, is that they are populist in some way.

True, under the word “populism,” a lot of different parties are gathered and their ideologies may vary. While most of these parties claim to be very different, we can, nonetheless, put everyone in the same basket for the purposes of this analysis, to understand why the results were so shocking. Their core point in common is that they all claim represent the people against “the elite” and “Brussels” which embodies both “evils”: the EU and the euro.

We could use the following system to classify like-minded populist parties:
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Deja vu in Thailand and Ukraine

I think there are some pretty interesting parallels between the current wave of protests in Thailand and in Ukraine, as barricades are thrown up yet again in the capitals.

The central theme in both is a recurring cycling back and forth of two major political and economic factions under the same sets of leaders, reversed more by political upheaval than constitutionally-approved changes in government, without any sign of a permanent resolution.

In Thailand

After the 2006 military coup against the rural-backed, Red-led government, there was an uprising in 2008 by the Yellow faction and then another uprising in 2010 by the Red faction, which leads us to the current uprising (Yellow).

Commitment to democracy in Thailand is pretty low, in both the military and the urban middle class/business elites. (The latter are both generally aligned with the Yellow faction, against the Shinawatra family’s Red faction. The military and riot police tend to side with the Yellow faction but sometimes intervene against both sides.)

Then again, the Redshirt protestors in the capital’s downtown area in 2010 were basically attempting to lead an armed popular overthrow of the government and were only suppressed when the military decided to remain aligned with the Yellow-led government and cracked down. So, they’re no winners on the democratic values front either.

Now, it’s certainly not unheard of for political parties in developed democracies to have overt, semi-official, or informal party alignments based on class (middle class vs. populist poor) or geography (urban vs. rural and/or suburban), if not both. In fact, it’s probably the norm, if you look at the UK, Japan, France, the United States, etc.

But Thailand, which is still (clearly) not an established democracy, is probably taking the alignments a bit literally. That is despite the low likelihood that either side achieving total political control would result in any kind of social revolution of any serious depth.

But until they solve their political geography and class warfare problem — and until they get the military to stop intervening — Thailand isn’t going to break the endless cycle of totally unproductive but headline-grabbing popular uprisings. And for a country whose economy is heavily centered on tourism, the political situation for the last seven years has not been helpful to anyone.

Meanwhile in Ukraine…

I’m not going to comment on why Ukraine seems to capture more U.S. attention than Thailand, but it seems to. Anyway: Russian-aligned Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych recently ended efforts — initiated by his political opposition years ago and already on the skids anyway — to join the European Union, and announced plans to seek closer economic ties with Russia instead.

This triggered huge protests in the capital because the rival faction’s distaste for a foreign policy decision means it’s time to overthrow the government, again, it would seem. They are the largest protests seen since the late 2004 October Revolution.

I could well be wrong — and there are indeed a lot of dominoes falling inside his own government right now — but I suspect Yanukovych is secure in power, contrary to the excited Western reporting.

Ukraine has long been split between the pro-Russian side and the pro-European side (with high levels of animosity on both sides) and there have been plenty of protests on both sides with varying degrees of success since the USSR broke up in 1991. The pro-Russian side, largely concentrated toward the eastern end of the country, which borders the Russian Federation, is largely composed of ethnically Russian citizens, including President Yanukovych. They weren’t happy about the USSR’s collapse and fear(ed) reprisals.

The ethnic Russians fear reprisals because of the many terrible things the Russian Empire and especially the Russian-dominated Soviet central government perpetrated against the ethnic Ukrainian population, such as the Holodomor planned-starvation genocide under Stalin. The ethnic Ukrainian population is concentrated toward the western side of the country and has aligned itself with Europe, like many of the former Soviet satellites and postwar Soviet Republics (Ukraine is an interwar Soviet Republic).

So why is Yanukovych probably not going anywhere (or at least not anywhere far)? For one thing, it’s worth recalling right off the bat that while it’s true the last time we saw protests this big, in 2004, he was the one pushed to the side, the current protests exist because that uprising didn’t actually permanently get him out of the picture. If it had, he wouldn’t be in office now getting protested.

Much like the Thailand cycles discussed above, such is the rota fortunae of ex-Soviet Republic politics outside Russia: the same set of people cycling up and and down, facing Russia then Europe then back again. Lately we’ve seen the pro-Western/anti-Russian president of Georgia, who arrived in a parallel uprising in 2004, similarly finds his political fortunes fading as an opposing pro-Russian coalition rose to power. Other examples are strewn across the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics.

In Ukraine, it’s especially pronounced and more rapid. Current President (and target of protests) Viktor Yanukovych, as prime minister running for president, literally poisoned his opponent with dioxin in 2004 (see this 2006 photo of then-President Yushchenko’s face post-poison attempt), was kept out of the presidency by popular uprising, and then became prime minister again less than two years later. By early 2010 Yanukovych was elected president anyway, barely five years after the “Orange Revolution.”

But the second reason I don’t see him being flung from office is more specific to this situation: the Russians can do all sorts of things to bolster the Yanukovych government and blackmail the rest of the country into certain foreign and economic policy directions, while the EU can’t.

In contrast to the Russians, the European Union has offered very little and continues to be pretty powerless in helping the opposition. I have no idea what big plan they could suddenly float here, particularly given that Yanukovych is the democratically elected leader of Ukraine and, although repressive, isn’t just some guy who seized power and can be pressured from office. Unlike in 2004 when he tried to steal the election, he’s already in office, because he won. A lot of people don’t want him in office, but a lot of people definitely do. That’s the reality of the East/West split in Ukrainian politics and the citizenry.

Most of the EU’s offers to Ukraine are predicated upon Yanukovych first releasing political prisoners from his opposition, which isn’t going to happen by magic. Unfortunately, it’s not like they have much of a carrot or a stick to back that demand up, particularly since he never wanted a European alliance in the first place. Such demands only work when you have something the other person a) wants and b) can’t get elsewhere.

Now, as I said, I could be proven totally wrong here on the outcome of this latest round of protests, but the excitement of first-person POV camera phone shots doesn’t always translate to political reality.

And, even if Yanukovych falls from power again, he’ll probably be right back on top within 5 years. Ukraine won’t solve any of this for real until they solve their East/West Russia/Ukraine divide. The EU would probably me more useful to Ukraine if it made an effort to bridge this divide and bring everyone together so they can compete democratically and constitutionally for power, without endless recriminations and fear of sudden, repressive policy shifts one way or the other.