Thursday, October 28, 2010

Painful Failure of Swedish Red - Green Alliance : Is There a Message for Canadians?

Some remarkable political parallels have developed between Sweden and Canada.

Now that Prime Minister Harper has taken to routinely, and falsely, labeling the opposition in the House of Commons "your (Ignatieff's) coalition", it may be worthwhile to look at the results of what Sweden called its Red - Green Alliance.

In Sweden's recent election, the formal centre-left alliance lost a tad more ground to the centre-right alliance, which remains at the helm of a minority government. The big news was the emergence of the "Sweden Democrats", the far-right, anti-immigration party to win 20 seats in the 350-odd-seat Riksdag.

One difference with the situation in Canada is that the far-right in Sweden remain relative pariahs, outside of the governing alliance, instead of being entrenched at the core of the ruling party, as the hardline Reform-Cons are in Canada's minority government. No one's fooling themselves though.. Not likely that the Sweden Democrats will be voting with the left to topple the government anytime soon.

Where the situation is remarkably similar to Canada is that, even though Sweden has proportional representation, where parties with a minimum of 4% of the popular vote are able to win seats in Parliament, much of the political landscape breaks out similar to ours.

Sweden's old, established flagship party is the Social Democrats. Similar to Canada's Liberals, the SDs have won the majority of elections since the late 1800s and have been largely responsible for shaping the country that Sweden is today. In losing power in 2006, the Social Democrats polled their lowest total ever at 36%, still leading the polls but fighting off challenges from all sorts of smaller parties with names like "Moderate", "Liberal", "Christian Democrat" and "Centre", as well as the Greens and the "Left" Party.

With the Greens apparently on a roll, the politico powers that be looked at the 2006 results and decided that together, the Left, the Greens and the SDs should have a great chance of surpassing the others.

Turn the clock ahead to the September 2010 general election. Surprise! Even with the radical, isolated far-right unexpectedly siphoning off almost 6% of the vote from the Centre-Right Alliance, the Red-Green Alliance still failed to live up to its potential. And the SD dropped even further, to a historic low 30%. Pundits are full of explanations as to why these events have all unfolded in this way.

There are many differences, of course, between this situation and the Canadian experience. One of the most prominent differences is that the Social Democrats in Sweden, roughly the equivalents of our Liberals (at least for the sake of this discussion), have become strongly rural-based. Our Liberals, obviously, are urban based.

Anyway, now the experiment has been called off and the Red-Green Alliance has dissolved in Sweden.

Can Canada's centre-left profit from the Swedish experience? Will they?

1 comment:

polygonic said...

The subject of coalitions is fascinating, and the fact that more and more countries are compelled into forging coalition government as well. Australia and the UK show that it's happening in Wesminster parliaments with first past the post as well.

Part of the rise, I think, is down to declining voter turnout among "non-loyalists" and increasing turnout among the polarised parts of the electorate. This gioves rise to more extreme small parties siphoning off support form the old guard, and it denies them majorities.

But only in Canada has the word "coalition" become some kind of unspeakable taboo. We can thank Harper and the press for that! It means a whole additional headache for coalition-building when you have to win the public's trust for even *thinking* of coalignment, let alone with who.