Sweden holds vote that should boost anti-immigration party
Stockholm, Sweden — Sweden holds elections on Sunday that are expected to boost a populist anti-immigration party that pledges to crack down on shootings and other gang violence that have shaken many people’s sense of safety.
The Swedish Democrats won seats in parliament for the first time in 2010 and have consistently won more votes in parliament with each election. The party’s fortunes have grown following massive migration in recent years, particularly during the European crisis year of 2015, and as crime has increased in segregated neighborhoods.
The populist party was founded by far-right extremists decades ago, but in recent years it has worked hard to change its image. For many years, voters considered it unacceptable and other parties shunned it. It changes.
Polls predicted Sweden’s Democrats, who won 13% in 2018, would take around 20% this time to become the second largest party in parliament. That would only put him behind Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s centre-left Social Democrats.
Andersson, the 55-year-old leader, enjoys a high approval rating. She became Sweden’s first female prime minister less than a year ago and was at the helm when Sweden made its historic bid to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Zeth Isaksson, a sociologist specializing in voting behavior at Stockholm University, said his image had benefited from his experience in government, first as finance minister, through crises such as the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 and, as Prime Minister, in negotiations to join NATO.
“Magdalena Andersson is one of the biggest factors in this election,” Isaksson told The Associated Press.
At rallies, his supporters wore T-shirts and pins featuring his likeness modeled after former President Barack Obama’s stylized “Hope” poster.
Hope is precisely what many critics say his party no longer has after his eight years in power. They blame the left for high taxes and failing to stem the shootings that have made Sweden one of the most violent countries in Europe.
“She’s had eight years to do everything she now says she’s going to do,” said Bosse Adolfsson, a 70-year-old partly retired electrician who joined a rally of Swedish Democrats on Saturday night. “She’s asking for four more years to do nothing.”
There are two large blocks: one with four parties on the left and another with four on the right. Polls leading up to the election showed the blocs neck and neck.
If the left bloc does poorly, Andersson might not be able to form a government with a majority in parliament. In this case, he would go to the party in second place to have his chance to form a government. Traditionally this would be the centre-right moderates, but they now risk being outvoted by the populists.
On the eve of the vote, Andersson campaigned in an immigrant Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby, addressing a crowd after a warm-up number by a Swedish hip-hop artist with Somali roots.
Andersson expressed concern about the growing popularity of Sweden’s Democrats, calling foreign journalists a “far-right” party whose rhetoric and beliefs could affect the welcome people might feel in society.
“It could be a different Sweden that we could have in four years,” she said.
The Swedish Democrats have clearly exploited the concerns of many, and other parties have moved closer to his positions. Many Swedes feel they can no longer bear the costs of the generous refugee policies of the past.
Tobias Andersson, a 26-year-old MP from the Sweden Democrats who is seeking a second term, said his party was unfairly labeled racist by opponents because it served their interests.
“I wasn’t even born when my party was founded, I don’t care who founded it. I look at the values and policies that we support today,” he told the AP.
During the campaign, he tweeted a widely shared photo of a Stockholm metro train that the party paid to have covered in its logo, a daisy, with the words: “Welcome to the train home. You are a one-way ticket holder. Next stop, Kabul!
He said other parties that have accused Sweden Democrats of being racist “are themselves promoting the same policies”.
Most Swedes still oppose it, and some were tactically voting against all conservative parties just to prevent that side from having a chance to form the government.
During a vote in Stockholm, Bjarne Frykholm, a 65-year-old computer scientist, would not say who he had voted for except to clarify that he had been dismissed by the Swedish Democrats.
“I don’t want them to get any power,” he said. “I think they scare me very much.”