Next week sees a fascinating vote in the Swedish Riksdag as the parliament has to decide on the 2015 State Budget.
The process is complicated by the fact that the Riksdag is still divided in two blocs (Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party versus Conservatives, Centre Party, Liberals and Christian Democrats) with the Sweden Democrats as an independent force and no general agreement has been reached between the government and the one or more parties from the opposition bloc. For a number of reasons, an agreement between either bloc and the Sweden Democrats has been out of the question. So, the government which commands 138 of 349 seats enter the vote without a majority even if the Left Party’s 21 seats bring the left-wing to 159 seats.
The vote gets even more complicated as it will not be a simple yes-or-no vote: There are three budget proposals on the table – a Red (proposed by the government), an Orange (proposed by the opposition Alliance) and a Blue one (proposed by the Sweden Democrats).
Now, as I understand the procedures of the Riksdag correctly (and that is a big if), the decision will be taken in a series of votes. If the proposal backed by the largest minority (Red – 159) is first put against the proposal backed by the smallest minority (Blue – 49), then Blue is eliminated, if the four Alliance parties decide to abstain. Next, Red (159) is put against Orange (141) and if the Sweden Democrats abstain, Red wins and Sweden has a budget. However, if the Sweden Democrats decide to vote for Orange against Red, Orange wins, Sweden has a budget – and a government crisis, as a defeat in a budget vote usually equals a vote of no confidence.
This is where the real fun begins. Spokesmen from the Orange bloc have attacked the Sweden Democrats for considering supporting the Orange budget – this almost equals the political version of “man bites dog” (“Politician: Don’t vote for my policies”), while Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén has declared that a lost budget vote might not mean the resignation of the government.
Basically, what is going on is everybody trying to call everybody else’s bluff by threatening to change the parliamentary customs. If we start with the Orange parties (the Alliance), they acted on the assumption that presenting a budget proposal was without risks as the proposal would be voted down. The Orange bloc could keep the Alliance alive (remember that the Conservatives are without a party leader at the moment) in the public eye, but not hold any political responsibility. By threatening to support the Alliance, the Sweden Democrats called the Alliance’s bluff by increasing the political costs of this action: If Stefan Löfvén resigns, the inability of the Alliance to form a government without SD support would be exposed. Alternatively, the parties would have to fight an electoral campaign without a leader.
However, Löfvén is calling the Sweden Democrats’ bluff by declaring that the government might work with an Orange budget. This is another way of raising the stakes: If the Sweden Democrats want to get rid of the government, they will have to table a motion of no confidence and have it passed with the Orange bloc. This would expose both the rift between the Alliance and the Sweden Democrats and the Orange bloc’s unwillingness to take over government. On the other hand, the Social Democrats will have to work with a budget it hasn’t proposed – and the government also questions a basic pillar of parliamentary government.
Finally, both the Alliance and the Sweden Democrats are trying to call the government’s bluff by exposing its weak parliamentary basis: The government has to rely on some sort of medium-term agreement with the Alliance (and not as it hopes, one or two Alliance parties).
Obviously, the Sweden Democrats could argue that they will vote on the basis of policy, rather than tactics, i.e. abstain or vote against the Red and Orange budgets. This would give the Red-Green government a year’s respite before the process repeats itself next autumn. By this time, the Conservatives and the Alliance will have a new leader and we could face one of three alternatives: 1. Three blocs confronting each other, leading to a potential deadlock, 2. A grand coalition of Red-Greens and Oranges (which might create a centrist pole confronting a Left/SD opposition) or 3. A loose cooperation between the government and one or more Orange parties, depending on the issue. It doesn’t take a political scientist to see that 3. is what Stefan Löfvén and the government hope for.