Sweden’s nationalist anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, took 13 percent of the vote to come third in this weekend’s Swedish elections. The party now holds 49 of the 349 seats in Sweden’s Parliament, more than doubling their seat tally and denying either the two main coalition groupings a majority.
Sweden’s conservative party ‘Moderaterna’ (‘Moderate’), led by outgoing Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt lost 7 percent of their vote to land on 23 percent, which equated to a loss of 23 seats. Reinfeldt will now step down both as Prime Minister and leader of his party. He had been in power since 2006. The party is the senior partner in a centre right grouping called “Alliance” which as a group won 38 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, the left wing Social Democrats picked up one extra seat with a steady 31 percent of the vote. This is not so much a victory as their voter share hasn’t shifted, but nonetheless it makes their leader Stefan Löfven the next Prime Minister. However his centre left grouping, which also includes the Left Party and the Environment Party, only managed a combined total of 45 percent. They will form a minority government having ruled out any involvement with the Sweden Democrats.
In his victory speech, Löfven said “We, the Social Democrats, have won more than 30 percent of the votes. This is unheard of for a party in Europe. I will try to build a government. Moderaterna cannot continue in power. I will try to build a government with the Environment Party, but other parties are welcome as well. But we won’t work with the Sweden Democrats,” adding “We need to invest in the unemployed, in education and in welfare. Now we need solidarity.”
The Sweden Democrats are led by 35 year old Parliamentarian Jimmie Akesson, who has been instrumental in sloughing off the party’s old racist image and creating an anti-establishment narrative in its stead. Akesson ejected two candidates from the party during the election, one for wearing an armband featuring a swastika, and another for racist and anti-immigrant comments posted online. He identifies himself as a nationalist, but insists that his party is “broad and inclusive”.
The party has dubbed itself “Sweden’s only opposition party,” and focused on its anti-elite messaging during the campaign.
An election video features a female narrator saying “We want to hit out against the elite who have let our society disintegrate for decades. They are to blame for the problems in our society… It is, therefore, no mystery that politicians want to be elected on the same policies which caused the problems in the first place… Their failed integration politics is solved by more mass immigration. And the problem of begging is solved by having even more people come here to beg,” over images of rich men lounging in a limo. She goes on “And the strangest thing of all: no matter what the other parties say, they still tend to think the same thing. Sometimes they think so similarly that they use the same campaign slogans.”
The other parties responded by slamming the Sweden Democrats as racists, but as one TV commentator noted, if a school suddenly accepts 100 children who don’t speak Swedish, people are understandably going to have concerns.
Sweden is currently the only country to have granted automatic residence to refugees fleeing Syria. It is expected that 80,000 Syrians will arrive in the country this year. “Islamism is the Nazism and communism of our time. It has to be met with disgust and much stronger resistance than has so far been the case,” said Akesson in a speech in August – a message that has clearly met with popular approval. His party argue that Sweden would be better off spending money on humanitarian aid to war stricken regions to help the refugees before they arrive in Sweden. They would also like to see more money spent on welfare for Swedish natives rather than on recent immigrants.
“It is obvious that we represent a political line in the sand that is different from all the other parties,” Linus Bylund, Akesson’s press spokesman told The Local. “We believe that mass immigration and multiculturalism get in the way of our country’s development and welfare systems. We cannot afford this.”
It was a sentiment shared by Joakim Ishenden, who sits on the board of directors for the party’s youth wing. “We have a reputation for accepting more immigrants than anywhere else in Europe,” he said. “We just can’t keep going in the same direction.”
Li Bennich Björkman, a political scientist from Uppsala university said that the party was appealing to two demographics: young people, thanks to a youth unemployment rate of 20 to 25 percent, three times higher than the general rate of joblessness in Sweden. And also people living in rural communities, who feel abandoned by their urban leaders. “There is a group of people outside of Sweden’s urban cities that feel marginalized,” she said. “The Sweden Democrats are not just about cutting immigration, they represent this wider resistance to the post-modern world and so they attract people that hark back to a different kind of Sweden.”
The results may make leaders across Europe uncomfortable, as the Socialist Democrats’ rhetoric is being heard in more countries than Sweden. Last year Marine Le Pen visited Akesson in Stockholm, and he praised her party’s “modern, quite fresh direction”, and the two Sweden Democrat MEPs in the European Parliament sit with Britain’s UK Independence Party in the Freedom and Direct Democracy Grouping. Like Ukip, the party has been drawing support from across the political spectrum – 29 percent of their voters in this week’s election are former Moderaterna voters, and 16 percent are former Social Democrat voters.
What is clear is that, despite the best attempts of the other parties to denigrate their message, Sweden Democrats are not going away. Speaking at a press conference, the new Prime Minister Loefven conceded “There’s a completely new political map in Sweden”.