Tense Days Await Sweden to Seal Deal Rejecting Nationalists

(Bloomberg) -- Sweden faces tense days ahead amid rancor on all sides of the political spectrum after centrist parties joined forces with the Social Democrats to keep the nationalists from gaining influence.

After striking a deal with the smaller opposition parties to end four months of talks, Social Democratic leader Stefan Lofven will now likely face a vote in parliament on Wednesday to give him a second term. An official announcement on the vote is expected by the speaker on Monday.

Tense Days Await Sweden to Seal Deal Rejecting Nationalists

But as new alliances are formed, Lofven may be undone by the left-wing allies he’s now abandoning. News agency TT on Sunday reported that the Left Party was leaning toward voting no to Lofven, dooming his bid. Lofven’s deal includes a pledge to freeze out the group and string of measures such as tax cuts and deregulation that are unpalatable to the former communist party. It will announce how it intends to vote at a press conference around noon in Stockholm.

Over the weekend, the Center Party and Liberals approved the deal, albeit with some internal opposition. The accord means that the two parties will back a Social Democratic and Green government, support which would be evaluated annually. The move has broken apart the former Conservative-led opposition, raising rancor on the right as well, and risks the ire of many voters demanding change after four years of Social Democratic rule.

Rather than closing the door on the fringe parties, it could feed more voter dissatisfaction. Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the conservative Moderate Party, on Sunday called the decision to break a part the center-right bloc a “historic mistake.”

Voters flocked to the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats in September’s election, making it the third-biggest party while handing the Social Democrats their worst result in a century. The Moderates also lost votes, and neither of the two traditional blocs achieved a majority, echoing a broader rise in European populism.

Tense Days Await Sweden to Seal Deal Rejecting Nationalists

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson, who has kept a low profile during the talks over the past four months, said in a Facebook post on Friday that that the disintegration of the center-right bloc came as no surprise and that he now aims to take power in 2022. “The big fight now is between conservatism and left-wing liberalism,” he said.

Center Party leader Annie Loof said the deal was the best available under the circumstances. The party’s priorities were to end the stalemate and keep the fringe parties from exerting influence, while advancing more liberal policies.

“I’m under no illusion that everyone will see this deal as a good thing,” she said in an interview on Saturday.

Voters are also lukewarm. In a poll by Inizio, 36 percent of voters picked “disappointment” to describe how they felt, making it the top choice. That was followed by “disbelief,” “resignation” and “relief.” Some 22 percent picked “anger,” and 21 percent opted for "hope.”

Jan Bjorklund, leader of the Liberals, said in an interview on Sunday that he understand if some voters are disappointed, but that speaking of any betrayal is taking it too far.

“We said before the election that we wanted to work with the other bloc to exclude the Sweden Democrats from influence,” he said. “It’s not like we have betrayed what we said. We’re doing what we said.”

With 167 seats of a total of 349, the constellation would still be short of a majority in parliament and would need backing from others to get measures through the legislature. But its budgets would still pass since they only need a plurality.

The scheduled vote on Wednesday will be the the the third prime minister vote held in parliament since the September election, with both Lofven and Kristersson having lost earlier. There must be four votes before a new election is held, and the speaker, Andreas Norlen, has scheduled a fourth one for Jan. 23 if necessary.

Norlen will meet with party leaders on Monday and then announce who will be voted on as prime minister.

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