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Elections in Sweden: populist clouds hovering over Stockholm

Voters in Sweden will head to the polls on Sunday September 9 divided on the refugees issue, despite the fact, said Olle Sylvén from Caritas, that Sweden “has the economic means, the capability and enough room to host the migrant population. But no political party has said it in clear terms as we have.” Opinion polls suggest mounting consensus for the far-right, while the Social Democrats that have governed the Country to date are lagging behind. “Heart of the world” campaign launched by civil society in conjunction with the Church

Confusion and uncertainty prevail a few days ahead of Sweden’s national election of Sunday 9 September and there is a strong risk that chaos will persist even after the ballots are scrutinized: opinion polls show that Stefan Löven , Social Democratic leader, who had obtained 31% of the vote in the 2014 elections, at the helm of a government coalition with the Greens, will lose consensus (down to approximately 25%). And although his party is expected to remain the most voted, it is unlikely to win a majority that would ensure the lead of a government coalition with left-wing parties. In fact it might have no other option than to form an alliance with the moderate right to oust the populists with whom no one wants to govern.

The Country makes no exception. In the past months the Sweden Democrats, a party with a strong populist connotation, has polled at a record 20%. “Certainly the migration issue has defined the present situation, triggering widespread concern over the high number of arrivals in recent years. In reality over the past weeks, as election day drew close, the trend was reversed and the populists dropped to less than 18%, while opinion polls register the growth of smaller Parties. Maybe people have realised the gravity of the situation and that giving the populists too much power is a negative move.” Olle Sylvén, head of communication for Caritas Sweden, drew an outline of the general climate ahead of the election day for SIR. Moreover, surveys show that despite economic solidity, low unemployment rates and a strong democratic tradition, also Sweden “follows the populist trend experienced across Western Europe.”

Anti-immigration rhetoric. Sweden Democrats gained consensus by tapping into immigration fears; the other political parties were “contaminated by these themes”, trying “to show in their own way that they can protect Sweden from danger.” Sweden “has the economic means, the capability and enough room to host the migrant population. But no political party has made it clear as we at Caritas have” since “it does not reflect the way people feel.” “The success of populist groups has influenced” also democratic Parties’ public discourse. Indeed, Sylvén pointed out, “integration could work better. Many civil society players and of the Church are engaged in this field, thus we are the ones who have the best opportunities to carry out this task, more than politicians, even though our resources are few. Although it’s true that the suburban areas of large cities have grown isolated, this problem should not be overplayed. It largely depends on how you look at it. In fact many immigrants have integrated well while others don’t feel they are full members of society, but even this aspect could change for the better in a couple of years.”

Debate on the EU, healthcare and taxes. EU membership is another issue challenged by populists. According to Sylvén, however, Sweden has a consolidated bond with the EU: “Only Sweden Democrats support a Swexit – Sweden’s exit from the EU – the other parties feel comfortable with being members of the European Union and there is no real debate on the subject.” Controversial issues debated by the various political parties during the election campaign included healthcare and the tax system as a whole.

Sweden ,Stockholm the old city

Disappointed with the establishment. On the other hand, voters turnout is no reason for concern. In fact it amounted to 85% in 2014, and the figures are expected to remain high given “the populations’ widespread awareness of the importance of voting.” Yet the present climate of confusion could result in a high percentage of blank voting, thereby expressing “disappointment towards the political establishment.”

“Heart of the world” campaign. The fact that democratic awareness and participation is part and parcel of the Swedish fabric is seen in the initiative promoted by Concord, a platform of social, civil and religious organizations that past Spring launched a campaign addressed to political leaders running for office urging them to take on the responsibility of major global issues, without focusing only on what is happening in Sweden. #hjärtavärlden, the heart of the world, is the name of the campaign that challenged political candidates with a set of themes of fundamental import. These include: migration (as a global phenomenon), environmental protection, the commitment to defend human dignity and combat poverty, the implementation of a “feminist foreign policy”, namely, a foreign policy that aims to strengthen “women’s rights, role and resources” based on the belief that if gender equality were applied at all levels the world would be a better place to live in.

The support of the Churches. The intent of Concord’s initiative, backed by approximately fifty organizations that include the Council of Christian Churches, was to bring these global themes into the public debate, in the political agenda of political parties and hopefully into the new government, since, reads the manifesto, “political decisions taken in Sweden have an impact on the population of other Countries, and what happens abroad involves us too. That’s why it’s important that Sweden contributes to political solutions at global level.” “Sweden is currently experiencing an attitude of closure, after the massive arrival of refugees in the period 2015-2016 to which society was caught unaware”, Sylvén remarked. “But organizations of civil society are asking to keep the borders and the political perspectives open. On these issues we stand united, Christians and non-Christians alike.”

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