Sweden’s center-right gov’t courts opposition Greens but shuns far-right after election

By Malin Rising, AP
Monday, September 20, 2010

Swedish gov’t courts Greens, shuns far-right

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s prime minister sought help from the opposition Greens on Monday to avoid a political deadlock after an Islam-bashing far-right group spoiled his center-right government’s control of Parliament.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s coalition won Sunday’s election but lost its majority in the 349-seat legislature, weakening its ability to push through crucial legislation.

The Sweden Democrats, a small nationalist party, entered Parliament for the first time, winning 20 seats to hold the balance of power between the 172 seats captured by the four-party center-right bloc and the 154 seats taken by the three-party leftist opposition, according to preliminary returns.

Reinfeldt has primarily reached out to the Green Party because he has vowed not to govern with the Sweden Democrats, who demand sharp cuts in immigration and have called Islam Sweden’s greatest foreign threat since World War II.

However, Green Party leaders Peter Eriksson and Maria Wetterstrand, who campaigned with the Social Democrats and the ex-communist Left Party, said they didn’t feel they had the mandate from voters to enter into a close collaboration with the center-right

“If Fredrik Reinfeldt contacts us, we will suggest a deeper and wider discussion with all the (opposition) parties,” Eriksson told a press conference Monday.

“It would be strange if the biggest party in parliament didn’t participate in such a discussion,” he added, referring to the Social Democrats, which got 30.9 percent of votes in the election — 0.9 percentage points more than Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party.

The prime minister said he wouldn’t start any formal talks until after the final vote count on Wednesday and said he would use all the time until the required declaration of government on Oct. 5 to consider his options.

“We obviously need to talk to each other. Not through the media, but with each other, and that is the way I will proceed,” Reinfeldt told reporters in Stockholm.

“Our ambition is to work in parliament with increased collaborations with the Green Party, although I can also see several issues where traditionally, as you know, it has been the center-right and the Social Democrats who have been in agreement,” he added.

Analysts said talks across the political divide were necessary for Reinfeldt to continue ruling with a minority government.

“The idea (is) that the Green Party should step over and enter some kind of deal with” the center-right, said Stig-Bjorn Ljunggren, an independent political scientist.

He said the governing coalition would have to change some key policies to win over the Greens, including plans to build new nuclear reactors in Sweden and restrict sickness benefits.

If Reinfeldt fails to solve the impasse he will be left with a fragile minority government that could be forced to resign if it fails to push its legislation through Parliament.

Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson said his party had “written political history” in the election by capturing 5.7 percent of the vote.

“They will be forced to change their policies, above all on integration and immigration, if they don’t want to keep losing votes to us,” a defiant Akesson told Swedish Radio on Monday.

Large waves of immigration from the Balkans, Iraq and Iran have changed the demography of the once-homogenous Scandinavian country, and one-in-seven residents are now foreign-born. The Sweden Democrats say immigration has become an economic burden that drains the welfare system.

Despite the success of the Sweden Democrats, polls before Sunday’s vote showed that Swedish voters were more concerned about unemployment and the environment than they were about immigration.

Reinfeldt’s coalition ousted the Social Democrats in 2006 and kept its promises to lower taxes and trim welfare benefits. Sweden’s export-driven economy is expected to grow by more than 4 percent this year while its 2010 budget gap is on track to be the smallest in the 27-nation European Union.

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