A far-right party with neo-Nazi origins could become the country’s largest after Sunday’s election.
Europe is at the centre of a crisis sparked by migration. In 2015 alone more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe. A number of countries in the continent struggled to handle the influx of people entering their territories. Countries within the EU have had disagreements on how best to deal with the problem while also helping those seeking refuge.
At the beginning of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, Sweden’s arms were wide open. Crowds gathered at train stations in large cities to welcome new arrivals. Swedes helped refugees get access to housing, medical care and other social benefits the country prides itself on.
By the end of that year, Sweden had taken in 163,000 asylum seekers, more than any other European country in comparison to its size. Swedes began to worry that they and Germany were poised to bear Europe’s refugee burden largely alone
Sweden is struggling to control gang violence, which many Swedes blame on immigrants. It’s a fear that could help the Sweden Democrats, a far-right group with neo-Nazi origins, become one of the largest parties after Sunday’s elections.
The Sweden Democrats have undergone a re-branding. They’ve expelled some of their overtly racist elements and adopted more polished messaging. Immigration, though, remains their overriding focus. Leader Jimmie Akesson once called Sweden’s growing Muslim population “the biggest foreign threat since the Second World War.” In this campaign, he has linked immigration, crime and the decline of the Swedish welfare state.
“It’s enough to look at these images of burning cars. The socioeconomic gap in Sweden hasn’t closed, it has just widened and widened,” Akesson told a rowdy rally last week in Gothenburg.
“Sweden has never been more polarized, more segregated. We have never had such a deep divide. Our country is being torn apart,” he said to cheers.
The party is polling at about 20 percent, up from 13 percent in the last elections in 2014, before Europe’s migration surge. If Sunday’s election results come close to matching the polls, the Sweden Democrats have a shot at becoming the second-largest party in the country. Some analysts believe they could even soar to the top, deposing the ruling center-left Social Democrats from a perch they have held since 1917.
The party is unlikely to formally join a ruling coalition, as far-right forces have done in Italy and Austria, because other parties still consider the Sweden Democrats noxious enough that they don’t want to give them cabinet positions if they can avoid it.
However, the support of the Sweden Democrats still could be key during frantic post-election negotiations and as the new government tries to move legislation.
In the past, the Sweden Democrats were demonised by the mainstream politicians. Now, moderate conservative parties are willing to use Sweden Democrats’ support on issues where their views intersect, including migration and crime.
Already, the far-right has won the contest to determine the national agenda. Rivals have sought to prove that they, too, can be tough on lawbreaking and immigration. The mainstream, centrist and conservative parties are rushing to match proposals for mass deportations, strict border controls and an end to taking in refugees from the Middle East.
Our assessment is that Sweden is experiencing the aftershocks of the nationalistic wave which swept Europe after the Brexit vote in 2016. We believe that Sweden will not elect the far-right party with a majority but the polls are showing a distinct favour for the Sweden Democrats. We feel that they will end up supporting another party in the government or will become one of the largest opposition parties.