Watching The World

Published: Thursday September 11, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday September 11, 2014 MYT 8:16:52 AM

Swedes return to basics

Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt. - Filepic

Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt. - Filepic

The Swedish model has proven to be among the most successful and humane systems to ever grace this earth.

SOMETIMES, as a columnist, you become weary of repeating yourself. Yet, given the cyclical nature of politics, the same issues will crop up from time to time. With Swedes going to the polls this weekend, I simply couldn’t help discussing one of my favourite topics. And yes, there’s an eye on the Scottish independence referendum, too!

For a number of reasons, I’ve had reason to discuss the workings of the Swedish system in this column. Most recently when a Malaysian couple was jailed on child abuse charges, I decided to examine just why Sweden took such dramatic steps to counter this issue.

The Swedish embrace of reformist socialism has been going on for nearly a century now. In fact, the Social Democrats has been the largest party continuously since 1917 and its leader Hjalmar Branting first took over as the first Socialist prime minister in March 1920.

Even at the time, moderate socialism was not given much credit in the face of rampant revolutionary leftist ideas or all-out capitalism, but the Swedish model has proven to be among the most successful and humane systems to ever grace this earth.

Branting’s successors Per Albin Hansson, Tage Erlander, Olof Palme and Goran Persson each spent at least a decade at the helm of Sweden as the country became a shining example of the welfare state.

High taxes were spent on public medical, educational and housing systems, ensuring an enviable minimum standard of living, while Sweden still maintained strong nationalised industries and even became competitive internationally with products ranging from Volvo to Ericsson to IKEA. And pop group ABBA, of course.

However, despite that lengthy run of being the country’s largest party, it has not been an uninterrupted rule for the Social Democrats, as occasionally their centre-right rivals would team up and form a coalition government.

Current Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt forged a coalition between his Moderate party, the Liberal People’s party, Centre party and the Christian Democrats to fight the 2006 elections, and he emerged triumphant, holding on in 2010. Now he goes into Sunday’s elections trailing in polls.

The Social Democrats under former steel worker Stefan Lovren is poised to regain power if it can hold its lead and negotiate an amiable situation with occasional allies the Greens and the Left (former Communists).

Like most developed democratic nations, Sweden needs this sort of reinvigoration and it’s nice to note that despite all the rhetoric before he took power, Reinfeldt did not dismantle the welfare state.

Yet there are aspects of the system which are crumbling and if he is successful at the polls, Lovren will have to contend with the contrasting demands of the Greens and the Left and a range of issues from nuclear power to job creation. He will also have to keep an eye on the growing strength of the right wing Swedish Democrats which is poised to capture about 10% of the national vote.

It’s also interesting to see how much of Sweden’s welfare model Malaysia can learn from. On the surface, it’s not much. A state like Sweden focuses on workers and farmers as the backbone of the nation.

There is a strong recognition of the dignity of the worker and jobs that are considered menial are often highly paid.

Thus those who go into industries like construction, service, plumbing, mechanics, nursing and teaching can expect a high standard of living for carrying out vital services.

Sadly, professions which are traditionally considered to be blue-collar jobs in Malaysia have been farmed out at an overwhelming rate.

I have driven past a security guard from Nepal, spoken to a mechanic from Myanmar, made food orders to a waiter from Thailand and have a home cleaner from Indonesia. Our working class is scarcely Malaysian any more.

This in itself appears to be an ineffective short cut to achieving developed nation status. We should be improving the working and living conditions of the Malaysian masses, not relying on cheaper foreign labour. Maximising the potential of human capital instead of looking at short-term solutions.

Can you imagine a scenario where Malaysian citizens willingly take to the factories and the farms in the knowledge that a good and secure future awaits them?

If we are to be truly developed, there is much to learn from nations that have eschewed rapid growth that comes with uneven distribution of wealth, and gone for a slow and steady model that makes us all responsible for each other.

> Star Online news editor Martin Vengadesan loves the idea of high taxes if it means our medical and educational needs are taken care of.

Tags / Keywords: Martin Vengadesan

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