The far-right Sweden Democrats party appears close to causing an earthquake in Swedish politics after becoming the country’s second-largest party by vote share in Sunday’s election, as the wider rightwing bloc that it leads edges ahead of the incumbent centre-left.
Exit polls on Sunday night at first suggested a narrow victory for the Social Democrats and their centre-left allies. But as the votes were counted the tally swung towards the right. With 94% of the vote counted, the right bloc of four parties had a share of the vote corresponding to 176 of 349 seats in parliament, with the left bloc trailing on 173.
A conclusive result may not be known until votes from Swedes living abroad are counted in the middle of the week, while the closeness of the race may yet complicate the formation of a working government.
The leader of Sweden’s anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) early on Monday said the rightwing bloc of political parties was likely headed for victory following Sunday’s election for parliament. “Right now it looks like there will be a change of power,” Jimmie Åkesson said in a speech to party members.
The incumbent Social Democrat prime minister, Magdalena Andersson told cheering supporters on Sunday night: “We’re not going to have a final result tonight”, Andersson, 55, called on Swedes to “have patience” and “let democracy run its course”.
The prospect that the far-right Sweden Democrats, who appeared to take more than 20% of the poll, may for the first time achieve direct influence over government policy marks a seismic shift in a country far better known for its liberal traditions.
The SD emerged from Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement in the mid-1990s and still struggles to shake off accusations of extremism. It was treated as a pariah by other parties but three years ago, the centre-right Moderate party embraced cooperation with the far right.
The SD has increased its vote at each of the past nine general elections. Its leaders are now demanding ministerial office, but the other three parties in the bloc have said they will not invite the party into government itself. However, the SD’s position as the largest party on the right places them in a strong position.
“The SD is currently by far the biggest party in the world with Nazi roots,” said Tobias Hübinette, lecturer in intercultural studies at Karlstad University and a leading anti-racist.
“Even if the party officially condemns its own race ideological roots, this background is today still present in the sense that the SD is still … seeing itself as the only political force that can save the native white Swedish majority population.”
The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, told a crowd of cheering supporters on Sunday evening: “Our goal is to sit in government. Our goal is a majority government. It’s looking pretty damn good now.”
The party secretary, Richard Jomshof, told public television SVT he “didn’t believe” other parties would be able to freeze out the Sweden Democrats again and expected to have a strong influence on the country’s politics.
“We are so big now … it is clear we should have a spot on parliamentary committees”, he said.
He said the party had “a chance to be an active part of a government that would move politics in a completely different direction”.
At the height of the campaign, the SD billed a metro train decorated in its electoral colours as the “repatriation express”. “Welcome aboard with a one-way ticket. Next stop, Kabul,” tweeted the party’s legal spokesperson, highlighting the SD’s demand to remove non-European immigrants.
The election has revealed Sweden to be a nation deeply ill at ease with immigration, with the SD able to exploit fears over violent crime. Voter concerns such as energy price rises, failing schools and long queues for healthcare were drowned out by a relentless focus on immigration and crime.
The campaign was punctuated by further incidents of gang violence, the prevalence of which during the past five years – and the failure of government and the police to prevent it – has helped the SD to cement support for its central message that immigration is to blame.
Two weeks ago, a woman and her five-year-old child were injured after being caught in crossfire in Eskilstuna, west of Stockholm. In Malmö a week earlier a 15-year-old boy shot dead a gang leader in a shopping mall. The number of fatal shootings rose sharply to 34 in the first six months of this year, up from 20 in the same period of 2021.
Party leaders on both left and right linked the rise in violent crime with large-scale immigration, which has led to high levels of segregation along ethnic lines in the housing and jobs markets. In the space of a few decades, Sweden has become one of the most multicultural societies in Europe, with more than a third of the population having been born abroad or having a parent who was born abroad. About 30% of children do not have Swedish as their mother tongue, rising to 45% in parts of the cities.
Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson, the incumbent prime minster, said Sweden should have no “Somalitowns” with a high density of ethnic minorities, while her immigration minister proposed that the proportion of “non-Nordic” peoples should be capped in certain areas.
In an escalating spiral of proposals, the Moderate party’s legal spokesperson suggested ADHD tests for five-year-olds in immigrant areas, because “in the country’s prisons there is a large representation of people with ADHD”. The party has also lost voters to the SD.
Anyone living in an immigrant area had now become a problem, remarked Ewa Sternberg, respected political correspondent for the liberal Dagens Nyheter: “It is hard to believe that these parties would have tabled proposals such as these 10 years ago.”
Elsewhere in the Nordic region, anti-immigrant parties such as the Danish People’s party, the Progress party in Norway, and the True Finns in Finland, have entered into coalition or support relationships with the mainstream centre-right. But in contrast to the SD, these parties have libertarian, anti-tax roots, while the SD are anti-liberal, according to Jonas Hinnfors, politics professor at Gothenburg University.
“The SD have a party programme of an ethnically clean Swedish society, they are against anything multicultural, they look at Hungary and Poland as countries to emulate,” Hinnfors said. “This is a turn to something Sweden has not seen since the 1920s and 30s.”
The Moderates, with the smaller Christian Democrat and Liberal parties, were forced to collaborate with the SD to have any hope of forming a majority in parliament – despite significant ideological differences, said Erik Zsiga, a former political adviser to the Moderate party. “The SD were so big so it was inevitable, they had to relate to them in some way,” Zsiga said.
Source: The Guardian