Parties court pensioner votes in tight election

As strikes ripple across debt-ridden Europe over pension reforms, the two coalitions battling it out in Sweden's close upcoming elections on September 19th are courting elderly voters, who may end up holding the balance, writes AFP's Rita Devlin Marier.

Parties court pensioner votes in tight election

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,” Göran Eriksson, political analyst at newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, told AFP.

“At the moment, 1.7 million voters are retired” out of more than seven million potential voters, he said, “and in the coming four years, large numbers of people will be leaving the labour market,” as the population ages.

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 say.

Sweden was hard-hit by the global financial crisis, but emerged from recession in the second quarter of 2009 and is now considered the top-performing economy in the EU.

The ruling coalition, made up of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderates and the Liberal, Centre and Christian Democrat parties, has said it wants to lower pensioners’ income taxes by 7.5 billion kronor ($1.02 billion) next year.

Meanwhile, the so-called Red-Green opposition of the Social Democrat, Green and formerly communist Left parties has 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 Red-Greens are promising the most,” Eriksson said.

The nationalist Sweden Democrats have also latched on to idea in an attempt to win more than four percent 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, 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,” Eriksson said.

Tax cuts and other benefits are not the only themes that could sway the elderly’s vote, warned Marie-Louise von Bergmann-Winberg, a professor of political science at Mid Sweden university.

“Pensioners are not a homogenous group,” she told AFP, pointing out that many retirees were home owners who could shy away from the opposition even though its promises to them are more generous because it has proposed a significant real estate tax increase.

Retirees are also a group that values security and stability, she said, and the government’s perceived navigation of the global economic storm could play in its favour.

“For pensioners, security and continuity can trump ideology,” she said.

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Merkel’s conservatives suffer heavy losses in two German state elections

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party suffered heavy losses in two key regional elections Sunday, early estimates showed, as voters vented anger over pandemic setbacks and a face-mask procurement scandal.

Merkel's conservatives suffer heavy losses in two German state elections
Baden-Württemberg state leader Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens voting on Sunday. Photo: DPA

The votes in the southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate were being closely watched as a barometer of the national mood ahead of a general election on September 26th – when Merkel’s successor will be chosen.

In wealthy Baden-Württemberg, Merkel’s centre-right CDU was set for its worst-ever result at 23 percent, according to exit polls by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

READ ALSO: How elections in one state could show what’s to come in post-Merkel Germany

As in the 2016 vote, the Green party took first place again, garnering more than 31 percent.

Baden-Württemberg is Germany’s only state run by a Green premier, Winfried Kretschmann, who has been in office since 2011.

He could now choose to maintain his current coalition government with the CDU, or build a new one with the centre-left SPD and the pro-business FDP, which each took around 10 percent of votes.

What happened in Rhineland-Palatinate election?

In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU placed second with 25-26 percent of votes, down from almost 32 percent in the previous regional election.

The centre-left SPD shed some support but held onto first place, at 33-34 percent, according to the estimates.

Malu Dreyer, Social Democrat state leader of Rhineland Palatinate. Photo: DPA

The result paves the way for popular SPD state premier Malu Dreyer to continue governing with the pro-business FDP and the Greens, who more than doubled their score.

READ ALSO: Merkel’s party braced for slap in the face as polls take place in two German states

Because of the pandemic, a higher than usual number of votes were cast by mail, and observers cautioned that the final results could still change as ballots continued to be counted.

If confirmed, the results mark a worrying start for the CDU/CSU to what has been dubbed Germany’s “super election year”.

Merkel’s federal government, which includes the SPD as junior partner, initially won praise at home and abroad for suppressing the first coronavirus wave last spring.

But it has increasingly come under fire over Germany’s sluggish vaccination campaign, a delayed start to free rapid testing, and a resurgence in cases despite months of shutdown.

The CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party have also been roiled by damaging claims about MPs apparently benefitting financially from face mask deals early on in the pandemic, forcing three lawmakers to step down in recent days.

The mask scandal “weighed heavily on the election fight”, said CDU secretary general Paul Ziemiak.