Sweden's left-wing government collapses over immigration policy
The left-of-center government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has been forced to call new elections less than three months after taking office. Unable to pass a budget through the Rikstag (parliament), Lofven faced a choice of either resigning or calling snap elections, slated for March 22, 2015. Although the budget was the trigger, most observers believe that immigration policy is at the root of the fall. David Crouch of the U.K. Guardian explains:
Sweden’s far right plunged the country into unprecedented political upheaval on Wednesday by forcing the government to gamble on fresh elections in the spring after the centre-left coalition failed to push through its budget.
The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, the country’s third largest party with 13% of the vote, portrayed the new elections in March as “a de facto referendum” on immigration, currently at near-record highs as refugees flee conflict in Syria, Iraq and Somalia.
“We will focus entirely on the issue,” said Mattias Karlsson, the Sweden Democrats’ parliamentary group leader.
The far right forced the crisis to a head when they broke with established tradition and voted with the centre-right opposition instead of abstaining after their own budget proposal had fallen, ensuring the government’s defeat on this key legislation. In bitter remarks aimed at the centre-right, who had refused to compromise, prime minister Stefan Löfven admitted the Sweden Democrats now had a veto over Swedish politics, leaving him no choice but to call elections just six months after the country went to the polls in September.
Lofven, who earlier decided to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, has pushed a left-wing agenda.
The Sweden Democrats are a rising force in Swedish politics, having picked up 29 seats in elections earlier this year, for a total of 49 seats in the 349-seat Rikstag, making the party the third-largest of the eight in the body. Immigration has been a polarizing issue in Sweden, once ethnically homogeneous, peaceful, and prosperous, but now hosting a substantial Muslim minority that accounts for a disproportionate share of crime. The southern city of Malmö is estimated to have a 25% Muslim population and has seen such horrendous anti-Semitic crime that Jews have been fleeing, and police stay out of certain neighborhoods considered no-go Sharia zones.
Recently, the flood of refugees from Syria and Iraq has intensified the immigration pressure on Sweden.
Al Jazeera quotes several Swedish pundits:
Political scientist Marie Demker wrote on Twitter: "This has never happened in my lifetime. We live in a strange time. Sweden is a new country."
Lena Mellin of tabloid Aftonbladet wrote in a column that Sweden has not faced political chaos of this dimension earlier - at least not in modern times.
"Stefan Lofven is playing a very risky game, you can almost compare it to Russian roulette," she wrote, stressing that the outcome of the early election is impossible to predict.
She had previously predicted that Lofven rather than calling for early elections would seek to form a new government by getting rid of its coalition partner, the Green Party - a move that could have made deals with the opposition easier.
Next March could be a pivotal moment for Sweden. We can expect a lot of demonization of the Sweden Democrats, something that has been common ever since the party was born:
Eric Erfors of tabloid Expressen, who wrote that "bullying of SD" had paved the way for early elections.
He argued that the party’s decision to trigger a parliamentary crisis by supporting the opposition budget was probably caused by a desire to "teach the established parties a lesson".
"When SD were elected into parliament in 2010 the party was treated like something the cat had dragged in," Erfors wrote, mentioning that the Left Party protested over having to share a corridor in the parliament building with SD and that the possibility of shrinking committees to block the party from all practical assembly work was discussed.
"Such an anti-democratic attitude laid the foundation for revenge in SD."
We’ll be keeping our eyes on Sweden.
Hat tip: Breitbart