Left's slide halted?

 

"We broke the trend," Sweden's comfortably re-elected Prime Minister, Mr Göran Persson, boasted yesterday. "Next week our German comrades can follow us," he added optimistically of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's prospects.

Sweden's Social Democrats are now poised to reconstitute their minority government. With their allies, the Left Party and the Greens, they have taken 191 of the seats in the 349-seat Rikstag, Swedan's parliament.

Their reversal of the series of election victories for the European right, in France, Denmark, Italy, and next door in Norway, may yet be just a flash in the pan, but is certainly testimony to the enduring robustness of the Swedish model. The highest paying taxpayers in Europe have once again rejected the siren calls of lower taxation for the social harmony and solidarity of the well-funded welfare state.

The election is also likely to be seen by the country's EU partners as a sign that Swedish membership of the euro is now more likely than not. Observers say that the referendum on the issue, promised before next autumn by Mr Persson, is far more likely to pass with him in power, than under a conservative administration.

Mr Persson's victory, pushing the Social Democratic vote up from 36 to 40 per cent, reasserts the standing of the party as Sweden's natural party of power - it has been in opposition for only nine of the last 70 years. But the party's share of poll is still down on the 45 per cent to which it has traditionally aspired, and many see the election as having been lost by a lacklustre divided opposition rather than won by Mr Persson.

The poor performance of the Moderate Party appears to have also been responsible for the surge in support for the dynamic Liberal Party. It has taken some 15 per cent of the vote, 48 seats, surging past fellow conservatives of the Centre Party and Christian People's Party to become the country's third largest party.

The Liberal vote is likely to open a more far-ranging debate on problems involved in integrating immigrants into Sweden's traditionally open society. The party's leader, Mr Lars Leijonborg, alarmed many by calling for those aspiring to Swedish citizenship to be required to pass a Swedish language test, but the party's credentials as a strong defender of immigration should ensure that the debate he has started, unlike that in Denmark, should not fuel xenophobic tendencies.