Swedes head for coalition

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The Independent Online
OLD-STYLE welfare Socialists and Eurosceptics look likely to regain influence in Sweden after the general election this Sunday, dominated by resentment over cuts to health, education and welfare spending.

The Social Democrat Prime Minister, Goran Persson, leader of a party that has governed Sweden for most of this century, is confident he will retain his grip on power and has pencilled in talks with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in New York on Sunday, on the SDP-pioneered "third way" to prosperity and jobs.

The voters, however, apparently nostalgic for the Sixties model of a welfare state, which also gave Sweden the highest taxes in the western world, seem determined to give the Social Democrats their worst result at the polls in years.

Opinion polls yesterday gave the Social Democrats 35.6 per cent of the vote, an unprecedentedly low figure for a party whose members used to feel alarmed if support sank below 50 per cent.

While such an outcome may not drive Mr Persson on to the opposition benches, it would push him into an uncomfortable coalition with anti-European Union factions on the left.

The options include the Left Party, drawn from the remains of the old Swedish Communists and now poised to become the third biggest party in parliament, and the Greens who are equally hostile to the single European currency. The latest polls suggested the former Communists would win 12.7 per cent of the vote, double their showing at the last election.

If such forecasts prove accurate and Mr Persson's party is reduced to controlling just over one-third of the seats in parliament, he will have no choice but to contemplate an SDP-Left-Green alliance.

Linking with the former Communists will force Mr Persson to do business with the Left Party leader Gudrun Schyman, a self-confessed alcoholic, militant feminist and a deeply unpalatable prospect for many Social Democrats. Ms Schyman's platform includes 100 per cent employment, withdrawal from Europe and a return to what she calls "values".

"This election is not only about money it is also about what values we should have in our society," Ms Schyman said,explaining her party's strong showing in the polls.

She was anxious to play down differences with the Social Democrats over how the public finances would be managed but her party would inevitably want to relax the iron grip on spending Mr Persson has been exerting.

Both the Left Party and the Greens want Sweden to leave the EU. They want that to happen immediately if a referendum on joining the euro is defeated. Sweden, with Britain, Denmark and Greece, has ruled out membership at the launch of the euro next year because public opinion is so averse even though the economy is strong.

Sweden is one of the EU's newest members, having joined in 1995. But most Swedes seem to favour divorce. The latest opinion poll from the European Commission published yesterday confirms Swedes as the most reluctant members of the club, with only 32 per cent in favour, lower even than Denmark or Britain.