Sweden: raise the bar to 5 percent

The election threshold is too low, as a party with paltry support can influence policy and the Sweden Democrats pose a threat.

After WWII, victorious Allies concocted the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany which formed the basis of the 1949 German constitution. And part of that involves an electoral system with proportional representation elements and a 5% threshold. This threshold has been adopted by many other countries and tends to encourage stable government, typically devoid of extremists. In Germany, the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party hasn't gained traction, though a modern aversion to fascism might be the reason. Strange though that Sweden should have opted for a low 4% threshold as this has allowed access to parliament of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD).

At the 2010 election this party with neo-Nazi roots gained 5.7% of the votes (or 340,000) and its first ever representation of 20 members in the 349-seat Riksdag. Should Sweden be holding elections on a first-past-the-post electoral system as in the UK, almost certainly the SD would have failed to win a single seat. But they don't. They employ the seemingly more democratic PR system but with an ultra-low threshold. 

As the media has commented of late, much of Europe has witnessed a far-right resurgence. Anders Behring Breivik's terrorist atrocity in Norway had an adverse effect on the Norwegian far-right Progress Party's support. But over the border in Sweden the SD are attempting to go "mainstream", as The Economist describes.

The bar would have to be higher in Denmark to prevent its far-right Danish Peoples Party (DPP) from developing a power-base and extering influence, however. In Denmark's recent election the DPP gained 22 seats and 12.3% of the popular vote (a drop of 3% since the previous election). In Sweden, by contrast, representation can be gained by achieving a fraction of that support. 

Like the Progress Party in Norway and DPP in Denmark, the SD's attractiveness has waned in the aftermath of Breivik's attacks. And latest opinion polls place it at around 4.6%, enough to remain in the Stockholm parliament.

Raising the bar to 5% would be my suggestion. It's true to say that once inside parliament any party gains the media attention, notoriety (and freqently state funding) it needs to sustain itself and even enhance its support. And of course, even with a 5% bar, the SD would have entered the Riksdag in 2010. But it would drop out at the next election, that's the point. The SD was formed in 1988 and it took them 22 years to gain entry to parliament. A one-session experience might be enough for their supporters to lose heart. One would hope so.

If ads depicting an old Swedish lady pushed aside by burqa-clad women rushing to claim welfare benefits, as used by the SD in a past election, are distateful and inflammatory then claims that the party is moving mainstream are erroneous. Reasoned debate about asylum, migration levels, retention of natural culture and the speed or advisability of European integration are justifiable. Bigoted and inflammatory chauvenism is not. And thwarting the rise of extremists of any hue is essential for societies to progress and remain cohesive. 

Will the SD wreak havoc on the ordered and civilised Swedish way of life, despite their nationalist patriotic assertians? Or will Sweden raise the bar to prevent them, or other potentially disruptive or damaging movements, from exerting undue influence?

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