The world has grown smaller, with more contact and cooperation. We all live under one capitalist economic system, even with similar political trends. The elections in Europe, indeed in the world’s best democracy, notably Sweden, have become interesting and important to all of us – because they have ended in a draw. In cricket or football that is bad enough, but in politics, it becomes more complicated.

Sweden has about 10 million people. Its economy is the 23rd largest in the world, quite a bit larger than Pakistan’s. It is one of the world’s very richest countries with a GDP per capita of about USD 52,000. The economy is growing and doing well. The welfare system is advanced, as well as education, innovation, and indeed the general recognition of the country, seen as fair and orderly. The ‘Swedish model’, or ‘Scandinavian model’, is a mix of socialism and capitalism, yet, with the private sector as the economy’s engine.

What lessons can we in Pakistan and the rest of the world draw from the experiences of the recent elections in such a model country? Maybe even they can draw some lessons from Pakistan’s elections? What comparisons can we make with the rest of Europe and beyond?

Elections are one thing. This year, following Sweden’s elections last Sunday 9 September 2018, how to form a new government is another thing. In Sweden, the inconclusive result, a draw between the blocks, demands new coalitions and flexible cooperation across old and outdated blocks. The sitting Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said it already on the election night, that the block-politics is dead. But it takes some time for the politicians to realise it, yes, to ‘swallow a few camels’, be less proud and take some humiliation – and get rewards for it, too. To form a cabinet in Sweden may take a few weeks. But if the good politicians can show some new ways of doing politics in one of the best countries in the world, we have time to wait, not just for a few weeks, but even a few months.

None of the parties or, groups of related parties, forming the two classical left-right blocks has majority, the social democrats and socialists on the left, and not the conservatives and centrists on the right, working together under the banner of the ‘Alliance for Sweden’. Both blocks gained almost equal proportion of the votes, well over 40 percent each, with the Social Democratic Party getting 28.4 percent, down a few percentage points from last elections in 2014; and the Conservative Party (‘Moderaterna’) 19.8 percent, down a bit more as compared to 2014. Stefan Löfven is the leader of the Social Democratic Party and he has served as PM for the last four years. Ulf Kristersson is the leader of the Conservatives and a candidate for PM if his block should get into power.

There are two smaller parties on the left, the Green Party, which only gained 4.3 percent in the elections, but were a bit stronger in the last elections and has been a member of Löfven’s cabinet for the last four years. The socialist Left Party gained 7.9 percent of the votes, up markedly from the previous election. It is a support party to the Social Democratic Party, but has not been a formal member if the cabinet, although they aren’t much more ‘extreme’ than the traditional Social Democrats used to be.

Then there is indeed a more extreme nationalist right-wing party, the Swedish Democrats, with Nazi and racist origin when it was founded in 1988, but has had to clean house win the 1990s onwards. It has won members of parliament since 2010. In 2014, it got 12.9 percent of the votes, and this year 17.6 percent. The Swedish Democrats are the main anti-immigration party, but their party chairman since 2005, Jimmie Åkesson and other leaders officially distance themselves from the problematic Nazi and racist party history. However, none of the other, mainstream parties want to talk with them, and certainly not cooperate with them, at least not for now, and maybe not until they prove they aren’t extreme and undemocratic. This year, the party again gained voter support but not as much as had been predicted and feared by people and politicians.

The three small centrist parties together gained support from about twenty percent of the voters in the recent elections; The Centre Party (earlier the Agrarian Party) received 8.6 percent; the Liberal Party (earlier called the People’s Party) gained 5.5 percent; the conservative Christian Democrats received 6.4 percent. Especially the latter is quite conservative, and even the Liberals are very traditionalistic, at least in rhetoric. The Centre Party seems to be more truly centrist; they are more positive to immigration and social programmes, and they also focus on the interests of people in the rural areas at a time when the rural-urban dimension has become central in politics. All three parties, along with the Conservatives focus on more efficient delivery of social services and they don’t want to increase taxes. It is only the Social Democrats and socialists who want to increase the government budgets to social services, and therefore, taxes.

All of the democratic Swedish political parties agree broadly on issues related to security and crime reduction, better integration of immigrants, and maintaining a strict immigration policy. They also agree broadly on education policies.

Sweden is a capitalist country, yet, it is also well regulated with strong labour unions and employers association and professional organizations. The government sector is large and the welfare state is advanced. All parties, not only those on the left, support the welfare state and want to develop it further, but there are differences as for how best to do it, and also how much to spend. In recent years, all parties have made cuts in welfare allowances. However, in this year’s election campaign the Social Democrats offered tax reductions for pensioners (in spite of it being costly since people live linger). Also, they suggested an extra vacation week for families with school-age children, another reform that would cost money. This could be seen as a step towards reducing the working day from 8 to 6 hours, advocated by the Left Party.

It is easy and simplistic to say that the presence of Jimmie Åkesson’s Sweden Democrats is only based of extremism, racism, anti-emigration, and xenophobic feelings. It is that, too, but it is a broader protest party. Hence, the old parties, big and small, have a responsibility to modernise and include ordinary people to a much greater extent in the political discourse. If they manage to do that well, right-wing parties like the one Åkesson is heading in Sweden (with sister protest parties in Holland, Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere) will mainly be out of business. It is time that the Social Democrats in particular and the moderate Conservatives face up to this responsibility. To some extent the Swedish elections show that they are beginning to realize this.

The inconclusive Swedish elections give the Swedes and the rest of Europe, including EU, an opportunity to think and reconsider issues. I disagree with those observers who say that the Swedish election result is ‘chaotic’. No, it is not, it just requires some thinking and new attitudes. If anyone can do that well, it would be the level-headed Swedes! We can all draw lessons, and we can learn how populist parties should be treated – and also, how old political blocks must realize that they are not made in stone, but requires flexibility.

PM Stefan Löfven stressed that. And, yes, we have seen changes in Pakistan. The new leaders here are showing us that old ‘blocks’, old parties, don’t have ever lasting monopoly on power. Parties must change thinking, and voters, too, so that old and new parties, ideas, and politics can become more relevant and indeed help people to live better lives in societies with greater equality, more welfare, better security, and so on. And always, political and other leaders must always help us to be optimistic, that what each of us contributes alone and in organizations, can make a difference.

Thank you, Swedish politicians – and Pakistani politicians, too – you are quite alright after all! The world can learn from you, as the politicians, and we all, keep fighting the good fight for ordinary people.

 

n            The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.