Expected parliamentary chaos never materialised – but the storm clouds are looming


The Sweden Democrats’ pivotal position in the Riksdag has not led to chaos and inefficiency, as many predicted after the last election. On the contrary, the parties have adapted and decisions are made through new coalitions and cross-party cooperation. However, there are other causes for concern, according to political scientist Johannes Lindvall.

Sweden’s parliamentary map has been revised. For a long time, only five or six parties succeeded in reaching the 4 per cent barrier for representation in the Riksdag. The entrance of the Green Party in the 1980s shook things up, but not as much as the major success of the Sweden Democrats in the 2014 election.

Johannes Lindvall Photo:Kennet Ruona

“When we began our study in autumn 2015, we thought that the situation in the Riksdag would prove to be more stuck than it has actually become”, says Johannes Lindvall, who has been in charge of the study conducted by political scientists from Lund and Gothenburg.

The study shows that the parties have managed to reach as least as many inter-party agreements as before, and that the Riksdag parties have voted for the committees’ proposals in more than 90 per cent of cases.

Another important indicator of the state of Swedish politics is how the ruling parties succeed in fulfilling their pre-election promises. The figures look good also in this respect: 80 per cent of the pre-election promises were kept, which is far more than most Swedish people think.

“When we’ve asked people, their guess is that the figure is around 50 per cent”, says Johannes Lindvall.

However, even though Swedish democracy is actually performing better than the researchers expected, there is cause for concern when it comes to the conditions for Government–Riksdag interaction in the future.

The concern has to do with the fact that the number of parliamentary inquiries has gradually decreased since the 1980s in favour of expert investigations led by the Government.

“The development is due to dissatisfaction with the parliamentary inquiries, which were thought to be slow and ineffective. The positive effects of the inquiries – that members of Parliament from different political parties have influence which enables cross-party agreements – were not particularly discussed.”

Another potential problem is that the Government Offices has significantly grown since the 1980s. The number of officials has doubled and the number of appointed committees has tripled. This increases the Government’s power at the expense of that of the Riksdag, which, according to Johannes Lindvall, increases the risk that the parties will prioritise the struggle to be in power over the work in the Riksdag.

A third concern, according to Johannes Lindvall, is the budget process. The process became stricter in the 1990s to help government parties keep track of their spending. It also reinforced the Government’s power – something that needs to be reviewed, argues Lindvall.

“It’s important as it has to do with the Riksdag parties’ opportunities to influence the policies pursued and to not be faced with a fait accompli.

Johannes Lindvall finds that the discussions on the future of democracy, in Sweden but perhaps even more so internationally, should refer back to what happened during the interwar period, when democracy was threatened in many ways. History shows that the key issue when it comes to trust in democracy is whether politicians are able to find solutions to the problems that people generally think are important.

“In countries where democracy survived the 1920s and 30s, it has been shown that democracy actually delivered. Our study indicates that the conditions are fairly good for politicians to accomplish this task also in the future.”

Johannes Lindvall on…

…the GAL-TAN scale, i.e. the scale that separates voters according to their values, culture and identity rather than financial aspects.

“It may not be very relevant in Sweden – the economic left-right scale is still strong. In recent years, the immigration issue has been very important, but it will probably become more of a left-right issue. Political scientist Henrik Oscarsson has shown that this is how it usually works in Sweden: new issues such as the environment, feminism, the EU, and Christian values eventually fit into the left-right dimension.”

…the worst scenario after the election. “That it will become very difficult to form a reasonably stable Government. However, we should probably expect that it will take longer than usual – the formation of Government tends to happen unusually fast in Sweden, compared to other countries; this will perhaps not be the case this time.

In the long term, the worst scenario is if the Government and the Riksdag become paralysed in key issues due to the political power struggles between parties.”

…the most likely scenario after the election. “We will continue to have a minority Government, which has become the standard in Sweden for the last hundred years; however, the formation of Government will probably take slightly longer than usual.”