Sweden goes to the polls tomorrow at a historic moment for future NATO membership

Sweden is preparing to go to the polls next September 11 in an election in which the Social Democratic Party of the current Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, will face the conservative bloc in a historic moment for the country due to its future accession to the Atlantic Alliance.

Andersson, the first woman to lead a government in Sweden, was elected prime minister in November 2021, although she resigned shortly after being appointed following the departure of her coalition partner, the Green Party, which decided to step aside from the Executive after realizing that they would have to govern with bills proposed by the opposition.

Andersson tendered her resignation to the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, Andreas Norlen, amid widespread stupor, triggering a political crisis that was resolved a few months later, when the Social Democrat was sworn into office in a solo government.

This Sunday’s elections are decisive also because of Sweden’s future integration into NATO, since the pro-union parties control more than 40 percent of the Parliament, but the far-right Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Akesson, do not rule out changing their position and end up tipping the balance.

Another potential stumbling block for Andersson is pressure from the conservative and opposition leader, Ulf Kristersson, of the Moderate Party, who has also made the NATO accession process part of his election campaign, but has differentiated himself from the Social Democrats by demanding more speed and decisiveness from the government to speed up membership.

The elections will therefore inevitably be marked by Sweden’s future entry into NATO, since last May Stockholm applied for formal entry into the Alliance together with Finland in reaction to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The Swedish electoral system is proportional, meaning that the number of seats a party gets in the 349-seat Swedish Parliament is proportional to the number of votes the party harvests in the election.

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According to the voting system, any party must receive at least four percent of the vote to be allocated a seat. It should be remembered that all Swedish citizens over the age of 18 are called to the polls.

In the last election, held in 2018, the Social Democrats totaled 28.3 percent, followed by the Moderates (19.8 percent) and the Sweden Democrats (17.5 percent), a far-right anti-immigration party key to future post-election alliances within the conservative bloc.

Another key party is the Swedish Greens, who triggered the political crisis after breaking up the coalition and have traditionally supported the Social Democrats alongside the Left Party, which forced the resignation of coalition leader Stefan Lofven in June 2021. Andersson will therefore have to convince these minority parties to govern.

On the side of the conservative bloc, Kristersson could take over the prime minister’s post if he succeeds in pushing through a right-wing and far-right alliance, with the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the liberal minorities, the latter two being against making a pact with the far right.

According to the latest Kantar Sifo polls, the Social Democratic Party has almost 30 percent of the support, followed by the Sweden Democrats, with 20 percent, while the Moderate Party is projected with 17 percent.

The election campaign has been focused on issues such as migration, the energy crisis or gang violence. Opposition leaders, the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats argue that Andersson’s government has maintained a soft stance on the fight against drug trafficking.

In particular, one of the events that triggered opposition criticism of the Swedish Social Democrats was a shooting last August in a children’s playground in the city of Eskilstuna, a city of about 60,000 inhabitants 120 kilometers from Stockholm, the capital.

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A mother and child were caught in the crossfire between rival gangs, prompting the far-right Akesson to visit Arby, where the shooting happened, from where he urged the government to take serious steps to tackle crime in Sweden.

“After the visit, I submitted a demand on behalf of Sweden Democrats. The next government’s most important priority must be the judiciary, and we demand that an additional SEK 20 billion per year be invested in this,” he said at the time on his official Twitter profile.

Sweden is on track to break with its neutrality, under which it stayed out of the two world wars and avoided aligning itself with any bloc after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been the definitive trigger, since if in January only 37 percent of Swedes supported NATO membership, the figure now rises to 53 percent, according to a Novus poll published in May.

Turkey has not yet ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, already endorsed by two-thirds of the member states because Ankara reproaches Stockholm for its relationship with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), something the government has already denied on several occasions.

Ratification is the longest stage in the process of accession to the military organization, with the bureaucratic procedure of all the allies having, in turn, different systems of validation and involving, in many cases, parliamentary votes.

Once all alliance members and candidates have approved these protocols, the next step leads to Washington, where the documents are deposited with the U.S. Government, specifically the Department of State. It is not until they are all delivered that the aspiring country becomes a member of NATO.

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