chapter  6
19 Pages

Ethnic inclusion or exclusion in representation? Local candidate selection in Sweden


Introduction: what is the problem with immigrant minority representation? The ongoing deterritorialization of work, economics and politics forces democratic institutions to deal with a new kind of socio-political landscape. Migration, migrant populations and new ethnic minorities are a crucial part of this development. This creates new challenges for political parties. Not only is politics formulated by multiple actors in new multiple arenas and contexts – from local to international – resulting in growing uncertainty in political decisionmaking (Scholte 2005). Political parties also need to come to terms with the new political inequality in relation to growing immigrant populations. Refugee migration, the EU labour mobility policy and the growing need for labour recruitment from areas outside of the Common market to an ageing Europe are all factors that contribute to the growth of migrant populations in Europe. Political parties face a new task in today’s increasingly multicultural and ethnically diverse societies. It involves not only managing the representation of traditional group interests but also being able to represent, aggregate and channel a much broader range of interest representation in society as political mobilization is increasingly based on new lines of conflict, based not least on ethnicity and race, on religion and on gender. Given the historical background of the Swedish party system (i.e. its emergence within a relatively ethnically homogenous and class-structured society), adjusting to and coping with today’s diverse society obviously places a great deal of adaptational pressure on the party organizations. Swedish research on minority political participation reveals distinct gaps in levels of electoral participation and representation in political constituencies between native-born Swedes and those with an immigrant background. Moreover, recent studies show that this gap has widened (Adman and Strömblad 2000). In the first municipal election in which foreign citizens were entitled to vote in 1976, election turnout for the new ‘immigrant’ voters reached 60 per cent; immigrant turnout in the 2006 elections was 37 per cent, compared with the overall turnout rate of 79 per cent. How responsive is the Swedish party system to immigrant minorities? Research reports confirm that the share of elected politicians with an immigrant background (i.e. those born abroad) is low

and that there is a clear pattern of under-representation in relation to ethnic background at all levels of the political decision-making hierarchy (Bäck and Öhrvall 2004; Dahlstedt 2005; Skr 2003/2004: 110). In 2003, non-citizens occupied just 1 per cent of the Swedish municipal council seats, while they comprised some 4 per cent of the electorate. In 2002, immigrants (whether naturalized Swedes or non-citizens) held nearly 7 per cent of all municipal council seats in Sweden, an increase of just under three percentage points over a ten-year period beginning with the 1982 election (Bäck and Öhrvall 2004). This result is especially interesting considering the fact that the proportion of foreign-born citizens in the electorate increased from just under 9 per cent to 13.5 per cent during the same period (Bäck and Öhrvall 2004). The question is how the political parties go about performing their traditional key functions of recruiting and socializing members and nominees, and of channelling and aggregating interests in a society that, on the one hand, celebrates individualism, difference and internationalization and, on the other hand, includes new groups with few opportunities of enjoying equal political influence. The aim of this contribution is to discuss the workings of political institutions, and in particular the political parties, in terms of their performance with regard to integration policy. The empirical focus is on the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion of immigrant minorities in Swedish political parties and, more precisely, on the internal nomination of candidates and decisions about the party electoral lists. Seen from a bird’s-eye perspective, the Swedish political opportunity structure (Figure 1.1) would appear to be advantageous for immigrant minorities. There is a clearly expressed political will to promote immigrant representation. First, the citizenship rules that enable and constrain political membership signal easy access to full civil, social and political rights. The qualification time for naturalization in most cases is five years, and for Nordic citizens even more liberal rules apply with two years’ residence in Sweden sufficing. Second, the official integration policy, which provides far-reaching membership rights for foreign citizens settled in Sweden, has included since 1975 the right to vote and run for office in local and county council elections. As concerns cultural rights, the official integration policy goals of ‘equality’, ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘partnership’ express an approach that on a continuum from monoculturalism/assimilationist policy to multicultural policy (Koopman et al. 2005) places Sweden relatively far in the multicultural direction (Soininen 2008). At the meso level (Figure 1.1) the Swedish political system is based on a democratic heritage of social democratic working-class mobilization, today combined with a concern for gender equality in representation. Therefore, the principle of ‘every other position to women’ is officially applied by all of the parliamentary parties as a policy instrument for dealing with the under-representation of women in politics. While the party-centred electoral system in Sweden stands for stability and continuity – a vote is primarily a vote for a party list, not for a person – it also gives priority to internal party democracy. The nomination committees, or selectorates, decide on the draft party lists and the ranking of the nominees, with the help of

popular member votes or party primaries. Formal party networks, such as women’s associations or youth associations, play an important role during the nomination process, as do more informal party networks. Moreover, the election campaigns are publicly financed. In short, unlike in countries with an elitist political orientation, the Swedish nomination system represents a highly participatory political culture. The inclusiveness of the Swedish political opportunity structure, the openness of the political system and the democratic character of candidate nomination rules should, in theory, guarantee a high level of immigrant representation. On the other hand, there are other developments that may be disadvantageous for the nomination of immigrants. First, how have the Swedish political parties responded to new conditions brought about by the ongoing internalization and globalization of politics? Interestingly enough, the political parties are among those actors in Swedish society that are least influenced by the internationalization of politics; instead, they keep safely to the national political arenas (Ahrne et al. 2005). Second, an important development has taken place in Swedish party organizations. The argument here is that the organizational shift from mass parties to electoralprofessional parties (Panebianco 1988), and the resulting changes in party organization, influence the capacity of the parties to include immigrant minorities and to nominate them to political posts. Party organizations have successively become more exclusive as the numbers of active party members have declined (Petersson 2000). The increasing difficulties in mobilizing and recruiting new members, according to current calculations based on falling membership numbers (even if perhaps exaggerated), will lead to the last member of a Swedish political party leaving by 2017 (Petersson 2005). As a consequence of the shrinking party activist base, the social make-up of party organizations does not reflect the social diversity of the surrounding society. Finally, the political polarization around the immigration and integration issues in Sweden, as in the rest of Europe, is another crucial factor. This development not only has an impact on the ideological and political orientation of the party organizations but on how they balance the costs and benefits of promoting immigrant representation. The puzzle this chapter addresses is how, despite several factors that should encourage minority representation, under-representation none the less persists. Factors such as the explicit political will to enhance political representation for immigrants and the democratic nature of candidate nominating processes should promote immigrant nominations. This chapter argues, however, that other factors have an opposite effect. Institutional developments of the party organizations, such as an increased stress on screening procedures in candidate selection as a result of recruitment problems, and a shrinking base of activists who share ‘similar’ nominee preferences concerning social background and group membership. Another explanatory factor is the significant role in the nominating process of party associations and networks, together with the fact that immigrants are less likely to be involved in them.