September 9, 2010

SWEDEN: Swedish parties court elderly voters in poll race

STOCKHOLM, Sweden  / Times of Malta / AFP / World News / September 9, 2010

As pension reforms spark outrage across debt-ridden Europe, the two coalitions facing off in Sweden’s tightly-fought September 19 poll are wooing older voters who could swing the result.

Both the ruling centre-right coalition and the left-leaning opposition have vowed to boost the quality of life for older citizens. “It’s a rather simple math­ematical calculation,” said Goeran Eriksson, a political analyst at the Svenska Dagbladet.

A Swedish woman looking at an election poster with Goran Hagglund, the leader of the Christian Democratic party, which is part of the ruling centre-right coalition, in Stockholm, yesterday. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

 “At the moment, 1.7 million voters are retired” out of more than seven million potential voters, “and in the coming four years, large numbers of people will be leaving the labour market,” as the population ages, he said. He stressed the elderly also tend to “honour the duty of voting. You can be sure that they will actually vote.”

Pensioners, who even have their own – albeit tiny – party, are also good at getting their message across, Peter Esaiasson, a political scientist at Gothenburg University, told daily Dagens Nyheter.

“Young people’s organisations are not as skilled at organising and not as skilled at pushing their issues,” he said.

Unlike many other European nations where the economic crisis has led governments to slash benefits and push back the retirement age, Sweden’s economy is strong enough to sustain new pledges of tax-cuts and beefed-up benefits to retirees, analysts and economists here say.

Sweden was hard hit by the global financial crisis but emerged from recession in the second quarter of 2009 and is today considered one of the strongest in Europe.

The ruling coalition, made up of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party, and the Liberal, Centre, and Christian Democrat parties, has said it wants to lower pensioners’ income taxes by 7.5 billion kronor next year.

The so-called red-green opposition of the Social Democrat, Green and formerly communist Left parties, has meanwhile vowed to slash pensioners’ income taxes by 10 billion kronor as early as next year.

The opposition has also pledged to lower the maximum fee for hired help at home and ensure easier access to such services, and to fund activities in retirement homes.

The small far-right Sweden Democrats party has also latched on to the idea in an attempt to win more than four per cent of the vote and enter Parliament for the first time.

It has promised “a Sweden where the older generation can enjoy the fruits of the welfare society it has helped build up”, vowing massive tax cuts for the elderly and secure retirement homes.

The party has also put pensioners at the centre of a controversial campaign ad which shows a race in the dark between an elderly woman and a group of women in burqas pushing prams.

The slogan of the ad, which was modified after a private network refused to air the original, promised to safeguard pension funding at the expense of immigration.

One of the reasons pensioners’ income tax is such a hot topic, Mr Eriksson explained, is that the centre-right government won the last election by promising to slash taxes for workers, but left the pensioners out of its widespread cuts.

Already in the 2006 campaign, the Left branded the tax-cuts for workers a “pensioners tax”, although the term did not really catch on before this year’s election race.

“Now it has become a major political issue,” Mr Eriksson said.

Copyright: Allied Newspapers Limited