Red flags waved and supporters sang the socialist anthem The International as Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme proclaimed the reelection of his Social Democratic Party. “We have beaten back the selfish neoliberal alternatives,” declared Palme last week flourishing a red rose, the party symbol, after a closely fought campaign. “I think that is fantastic.” In fact, Palme barely clung to power. The Social Democrats lost seven of their 166 seats in the 349-member parliament, and their share of the popular vote dropped to 44.9 per cent from 45.6 per cent in 1982. By contrast, the coalition of three nonsocialist parties picked up eight seats and 48.2 per cent of the vote. Now, Palme will have to rely on the support of the small Communist party, which has 19 seats, to stay in office.
According to political commentators, the 58-year-old Swedish leader won a fourth term mainly because he had defended Sweden’s cradle-to-grave welfare system, the key issue in the election campaign. Voters apparently took seriously his claim that the right’s program of less social spending and more economic competition would create a society of “egoism and sharp elbows.” As a result, the Conservatives under Ulf Adelsohn lost 10 of their 86 seats. The big winner was Bengt Westerberg of the moderate Liberal Party, who defended the welfare system and whose party more than doubled its total to 51 seats. “Many young people who are not socialists none the less have a social conscience,” said Westerberg, “and we succeeded in winning their support.” Conservative leaders admitted that Palme, who trailed in the polls earlier this year, had succeeded in putting them on the defensive by portraying them as ruthless and uncaring. Using the same tactic, socialists in neighboring Norway nearly unseated the country’s governing conservative coalition in elections just a week earlier. Still, Palme and his Social Democrats face a tough three-year term. Economists say high inflation and a $74-billion national debt have strained the government’s ability to maintain its generous social spending. With centrist rivals banging on the door, Palme will need all his political skills to preserve what he calls “the most humane and civilized social system ever created.”
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