The Swedish People vs the Establishment, 1-0
Could it Happen in the US?
by Jerre Skog
September 19, 2003
On September 14, 2003 the Swedish people said a strong and decisive NO to abolishing the Krona, in favour of the European currency the Euro. The Krona, which succeeded the 470-year-old Daler in 1873, obviously has become a part of the Swedish identity which is not so easy to just discard. The final count in the referendum was 56,1% against the Euro and only 41,8% pro. The turnout was a bit higher than normal, 81,2%, probably due to the assassination of the YES side's main poster name, popular foreign minister Anna Lindh, which focused attention on the referendum. The expected sympathy vote for her side was more than countered by the high turnout which likely benefited the NO side.
The Swedish establishment is today, two days after the referendum, very subdued, slightly humbled and more silent than it has been for a long time, though some voices still can be heard from the captains of industry criticizing the people for not trusting them enough. It's impossible to say anything about the future, but a few days after the referendum a few of the things YES warned about, value of the Krona plummeting and shares falling, have not happened. Except for factual arguments, there's one simple reason for the victory of the NO side and it's called the referendum of 1994 on whether or not to join the European Union!
In that referendum I was politically semi-active, with links to the Left Party in Sweden, for the NO side. I still remember the frustration about the constant lack of funds, while millions didn't seem to matter for the YES side. Just like this time, a massive majority of the well-to-do establishment in, all major industrialists, and 9 out of 10 media outlets, dominated the paid information and propaganda, and the message was "trust us, we know what's good for you". The arguments from NO were mostly factual while the YES side tried to scare the people about the “disastrous consequences” of a NO victory -- economically going back to the stone age and giving up all say in Europe were among the worst. In the end the YES won with a tiny majority of around 2%, mainly thanks to the crushing imbalance in funding and managing to "buy over" a few trusted persons, earlier known for their integrity and honesty.
After the EU-referendum '94, it turned out that much of what the YES side promised wasn't realized and much of what the NO side warned of happened. EU has turned out to concentrate on petty details and regulating instead of important issues, the secrecy is worse than ever and the lobbyists have better access than journalists. Giant amounts are paid to farmers who produce surplus and a lot is paid for that surplus to be destroyed. Corruption is flourishing and bureaucracy is crushing. No, the Swedes were not going to be manipulated again!
We knew that Sweden's industry is in better shape than the Eurozone countries, our unemployment figures are half of theirs and our welfare system is generally in better shape in spite of many cuts and attempts to scrimp and save. Why should we want to rush into their midst?
This time the YES side again was filled with the heavyweights from the corporative/banking sectors as well as the dominating four political parties, and its combined economic clout probably dwarfed the NO side's by a factor of something between 10 and 20. The NO side had its strength in the number of very dedicated people working without pay in their spare time. While YES used paid demagogues, massive ad-campaigning and big PR firms, NO had a few leftist party leaders, passion and commitment. And strong support in the memories from the last referendum about joining the European Union in 1994!
In many ways the referendum was what democracy is all about, can be and ought to be. The issues were discussed in newspapers, TV, radio and among politicians as well as the population for months before the election day. The discussions were wide-ranging and almost every aspect was covered. Though the editorials were partisan -- and the press is more than 90% conservative and pro-Euro -- the reporting in the newspapers was generally fair and balanced and TV managed to cover the issue without giving too much weight to either side. The economic unbalance between the sides was seen mainly in the frequency and size of ads and paid arrangements. Wiser from the '94 referendum, the people this time used their brains instead of trusting the establishment.
Every Swedish citizen plus foreigners who have lived for a certain number of years in Sweden are allowed to vote. There's no disenfranchisement of groups because of criminal convictions or other reasons and thus less risk for manipulation and arbitrariness. Unless you are judged to be out of your mind you can vote, and if you are, an administrator is appointed to vote in a way that is supposed to be in your interest. There's no registering to vote. As a citizen you are on the voting list and you are mailed all information about the various alternatives and a card proving your right to vote, and in which election(s). (New immigrants are allowed to vote in local matters only.)
The voting in referendums and elections in Sweden is a rather simple procedure which has been refined in details over many years, but still in all essentials is the same that has been in use for many decades and in principle the same that is used in a lot of countries in Europe. The basic instrument is a "voting machine" consisting of preprinted ballots and envelopes. (In many places in Europe this is replaced by one pen and one piece of paper.) The voting takes place in polling stations (manned by volunteers from the political parties), one or more for every constituency of about 200-2000 voters. The voters have been mailed pre-printed ballots for the different parties/alternatives (these can also be collected at the post office or campaign offices or at the polling station). The voter just chooses his alternative, puts the clearly marked ballot in an envelope in a booth and is afterwards ticked off from a list as he drops it in the ballot box. After the voting is closed (open 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.) the contents of the boxes are collected, counted under supervision, recounted and the result is reported to the next level where districts are summed up and so forth up to the national level. Once the results from each polling station are ready, the computers take over for efficiency, paralleled by manual recording for safety. Manipulation and fraud are almost unknown, the ballots are stored for many years, can be recounted, can't be misunderstood and don't need interpretation by chad-experts examining ballots like they were murder weapons.
The final result is normally available two hours after voting closes. If it's not a very close race, a dependable outcome is ready one hour earlier. The system can be used whatever the size and number of the electorate. Whether a local election with 2000 participants or the whole country with 6 millions, it doesn't matter. Results are there 2 hours after the polls close. The system can be used as well for very big countries - in this instance size doesn't matter. Germany, with 80 million people, uses voting machines of pen and paper and has the same system as Sweden. It's safe, fast, simple and cheap. I'm sure both Sweden and Germany are willing to advice the US how to handle elections that don't need the involvement of the Supreme Court or people spending hours to decide between chads and no chads.
That is IF the US really wants some form of democracy! But then open discussion, of course, is the first prerequisite!!!