By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, N.B.] Telegraph-Journal
Here’s the main takeaway from the Sept. 11 Swedish election: More than one in five voters cast their ballot for the Sweden Democrats (SDs). And it cost the centre-left coalition that governed the country their power.
The Scandinavian nation, which was once one of the most left-leaning countries in Europe, has made a radical turnaround.
Campaigning on issues like immigration, religion, crime, and the cost of environmental rules, the SDs, a party with neo-Nazi roots founded in 1988 out of the “Keep Sweden Swedish” movement, slowly built its support in a country long noted for its welfare state social democracy.
In the mid-1990s, new party leadership publicly denounced Nazism. The party crossed the four per cent threshold necessary for parliamentary representation for the first time during the 2010 general election, polling 5.7 per cent and gaining 20 seats in the Riksdag.
The party continued to struggle to gain traction and was considered a pariah. That changed after the migration crisis of 2015-16.
Sweden accepted more asylum seekers per capita than any other nation in Europe, most of them from Muslim countries. The nation went full bore on opening up the country, which has changed its demographics dramatically and reshaped entire cities, especially Malmo.
And these refugees have been blamed for a worrisome rise in gangs and gun violence, previously a rarity in this once-homogenous country. The deteriorating security situation even led Germany’s top-selling newspaper, Bild, to label Sweden the “most dangerous country in Europe.” But the center-left Social Democrats, who governed in a coalition government for the last eight years, failed to assimilate the newcomers. As social instability intensified, the elites looked the other way.
For the first time ever in Sweden, voters rated crime the “most important issue” in polls. Sweden now has the highest per-capita number of deadly shootings of 22 European countries, and 47 people have been killed so far this year. Since 2018, there have also been almost 500 bombings.
The SDs almost quadrupled their 2010 result this past Sept. 11, winning 20.6 per cent of the vote and 73 seats, giving them the second-highest number of seats in parliament, after the center-left Social Democrats, whose 30.3 per cent was good for 107, but not enough to form another coalition with its former partners, who lost seats.
The SDs won voters from three main groups: rural voters from the Centre Party, small-business owners from the Moderates Party and workers from the Social Democrats. They also won many young voters.
The Political Party Preference Survey May 2022, a poll published by Statistics Sweden, found that sympathy for the SDs among blue-collar workers stood at 24.5 percent, while with white-collar workers, just 8.3 per cent.
The final election tally showed that the right bloc came in with 49.7 per cent of the vote, while the left bloc secured 48.8 per cent, giving the new coalition 176 seats to 173 for the outgoing government.
Despite being the biggest party in the new four-party coalition, which is also composed of the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals, SD leader Jimmie Akesson did not become prime minister.
Instead, that position went to Ulf Kristersson, the Moderates leader, whose party gained 19.1 percent of the vote and 68 seats. The SDs also did not take any cabinet posts, in large part because another coalition partner, the Liberal Party, rejected the possibility.
Romina Pourmokhtari of the Liberal Party vowed to bring down the government if the SDs were in it. “I ran for office to defend human freedoms and rights. That’s where we Liberals need to put our energy,” she remarked.
But the Sweden Democrats are expected to have a major influence over government policy and will certainly loom large behind the scenes. Sverker Gustavsson, a political scientist at Sweden’s Uppsala University, said that they “want an ironclad agreement with the Moderates and Christian Democrats that will include concrete measures in the area of culture, schools, immigration and criminal justice policy.”
The party is stringently anti-immigrant and is also expected to demand changes in policing, criminal justice, social benefits and environmental regulations. They support closing the country’s borders entirely, and have criticized the previous centre-left government as being soft on migrants, crime and Islamist extremists. Though they are not opposed to Sweden joining NATO, they have a Euroskeptic stance.
Akesson has said in the past that Muslim migration to Sweden is “our biggest foreign threat since the Second World War.” Following the election, he added that “It is time to start rebuilding security, welfare, and cohesion. It is time to put Sweden first.”
Soren Holmberg, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, predicted “It will be a very fragile situation for Swedish parliamentary democracy for the next four years,” adding that there were enough political differences among the right-wing parties to make consensus difficult.
Sweden got rich by being a conservative, market-oriented country, and that enabled them to finance their welfare state, so perhaps the formation of a new right-of-centre government is a return to traditional Swedish values. As one person expressed it, “you can have a welfare state or open borders. You can’t have both.”
The equitable Sweden of the late 1970s is now long gone, even though it maintains a phantom existence in the self-image of many Swedes.