Democracy in Action

After watching Q&A tonight, my attention turned to democracy in Sweden, as I watched a “leader’s debate” – or Duell, as they called it – ahead of next weekend’s general election there. If you’re interested, you can actually watch the debate with English commentary on the SVT website. In fact, it seems it was translated into several of the major languages spoken in Sweden these days.

As I watched, I noted some interesting parallels with the recent Australian election: with education, health, climate change and immigration dominating the debate, though I noticed a fair degree of bipartisanship on some of the issues, such as refugees.

There’s also the potential for the election of the country’s first female Prime Minister, and there’s the likelihood of minority government for either the Centre-Right Coalition or the Red-Green Coalition. Both leaders, however, said they wouldn’t do a deal with the Sweden Democrats (a right-wing largely race-based party) if push came to shove.

Unlike Australia, there was also a lot of discussion about the “Swedish Model” which is characteristically a debate about the extent of state involvement in people’s lives.

I’m not an expert on Swedish politics, so I’ll leave the analysis there and concentrate on what I found really interesting: how the debate worked as a “television event”.

The main differences between this debate and the one we “endured” in Australia several weeks ago included:

1. The use of just one moderator. There was no panel of journalists asking questions. The moderator was there to keep them on track and to ask the right questions at the right time. There was no sense of the moderator as celebrity, and she was often in the background as the two leaders spoke to each other.

2. They had an audience, and both candidates seemed to get the same amount of applause, so you would assume it was a carefully selected audience.

3. The candidates faced each other. And as one spoke, you got to see closely the facial expression of the other. This level of intimacy hopefully lead to more honesty.

4. They used a lot of footage from outside to illustrate points leading to questions. Although the footage occasionally included the leaders, it was mostly people talking about the issues that were important to them. High production values.

5. There was a slight “reality tv” feel to the production with a set that wouldn’t be out of place on something like “The Weakest Link”. There was also a slight “reality tv” moment when the moderator said that, as the two leaders spoke, the translators were writing down their every word, and that this would be shown on the screen and on the website as a “word cloud”. You could almost sense a deep intake of breath as both wondered what they exactly they had said. No need to worry, as they both used similar words.

6. The debate seemed to my eyes and ears to be one of substance and I don’t think I heard either leader repeat their party slogan endlessly.

As a piece of television I found it quite compelling. If the “debates commission” – or whatever it’s called – comes to fruition in Australia, they could do worse than look at the Swedish television election model. It was quite a classy, substantive piece of television.

There’s another final debate on Friday night, the election is held on Sunday, and then on Sunday night both leaders will appear on television. It’s all very civilised, isn’t it?

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