Sweden elections: how the far-right surged in popularity

Centre-left PM stood aside after general election delivered right-wing block

Police blocks anti-neo-nazi protesters in Stockholm last year
(Image credit: Jonathan Knackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden’s prime minister has resigned following the election defeat of her government.

Magdalena Andersson’s centre-left coalition narrowly lost to a bloc of right-wing parties, with 173 seats to 176. Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson is now expected to form a government includes the far-right Sweden Democrats party.

Although the Sweden Democrats’ “partnering parties have said they wish to keep the cabinet seats to themselves”, said

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Swedish academic Gina Gustavsson in The Guardian, the anti-immigration populists “will have considerable influence over government for the first time ever in Swedish history”.

‘Boisterous rally’

The Sweden Democrats party sprang out of the neo-Nazi movement in the 1980s, but leader Jimmie Åkesson “has tried to clean up his party’s image” since taking over in 2005, said the The New Statesman’s Europe correspondent Ido Vock. Yet “its origins have very much been on display since last week’s vote”.

In one, particularly damning, incident, a politician from the party appeared “to make a pun on the Swedish translation of the Nazi salute ‘Sieg Heil’”, Vock continued. added the magazine. The Sweden Democrats’ press secretary said the politician – Stockholm city council candidate Rebecka Fallenkvist – was drunk and “it came out wrong”.

Embarrassing slips aside, the Sweden Democrats have “come in from the cold after being shunned by the mainstream parties for more than a decade because of their extremist origins”, said The Times.

The far-right party has gained voters’ support by capitalising on unease over the nation’s progressive stance on immigration and crime. Sweden’s immigration policies have “long been liberal”, said Politico, but the Sweden Democrats’ platform would “aim for zero asylum seekers”.

Addressing a “boisterous” pre-election rally in the southern port city of Helsingborg, Åkesson painted a picture of a Sweden “ravaged by crime, where gangs roam the countryside breaking into homes, stealing from gardens” and “taking people’s boat motors”, the news site reported.

A disputed narrative

The narrative about the Liberal Democrats’ rise “offered by right-wing politicians in Sweden and beyond” claims that the arrival of 163,000 asylum seekers in the Scandinavian nation in 2015 caused social upheaval and a rise in violent crime, wrote author and academic Linda Mannheim for The Nation.

“The facts, however, do not support this narrative,” she continued. The “biggest growth in support for them took place years before the 2015 refugee crisis”, between 2010 and 2014, when the nationalist party went from polling at 339,610 to 801,178.

Jerzy Sarnecki, chair of Stockholm University’s criminology department, also dismissed the crime claims. Sarnecki told The Nation that Sweden “has in general, I would say, a pretty normal European level of crime”. “But shootings are a problem,” he added.

Gang violence

Swedish voters appear to be worried about the rise in shootings, which has been “linked to turf wars between drug gangs founded by immigrants”, said the Financial Times.

“In the past decade, Sweden has gone from having one of the lowest per capita rates of deadly shootings in Europe to the highest, according to data from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention,” the paper reported. As the death rate climbs, law and order, “once dismissed as a gang-on-gang phenomenon confined to the immigrant-heavy poor suburbs”, is now “among the top priorities for Swedish voters”.

These shifting priorities have dragged the nation’s politics to the right on crime and immigration. And while centre-right parties may hope to balance out their far-right political allies, journalist and author Gellert Tamas told The Nation that “the more they’re embracing them…the more radicalised the [far-right] party gets”.

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