SFor one of the largest elections ever held, weden goes to the polls Sunday. According to polls, a nation long known as a strong welfare and social democratic state could see far-right Sweden Democrats, with neoNazi roots, becoming the second largest party and a prominent player in a right-wing governing bloc.
That’s a dramatic shift for a country that has traditionally seen left-leaning parties led by the incumbent Social Democratic Party and center-right parties led by the conservative Moderate Party tossle over power.
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Riders and runners
Social Democrats Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is campaigning to reduce gang violence within underserved communities and increase employment. Sweden’s parliament ousted her predecessor Stefan Lofven last year in a no-confidence vote after the Left Party withdrew their support over a government plan to loosen rent controls. But he was later reinstated because opposition parties didn’t have enough support. Lofven had been leading the country since 2014, and Andersson took power in November. “Everything has an end and I want to give my successor the very best conditions,” Lofven said, adding that stepping down was “not easy, but right.”
Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party and also a member of the opposition has proposed that we be tougher on crime in order to decrease gang violence. “He’s a typical opposition leader; he wants to blame the government for policy failures, particularly having to do with gang violence,” says Jan Teorell, a political science professor at Stockholm University.
According to current polling, the Social Democrats are currently at 30%. The Sweden Democrats come in at 20% and the Moderates at 17%. The Sweden Democrats won 0.4% in 1998’s elections, but they became the third biggest party at the 2018 election.
Swedish political parties seldom get a majority in parliament. This means that they have to often form alliances with other parties to form government. According to polls, a centre-left bloc headed by the Sweden Democrats seems tied with one that forms parties on the left. The Moderates’ Kristersson has said his priority is forming a strong government, a sign he sees the far-right party as a potential partner this year, despite vowing in 2018 to never cooperate with the Sweden Democrats.
Why gang violence became a key issue
The leading contenders’ focus on gang violence is in response to an uptick in shootings this year. At least 48 people have been killed in Sweden by guns since Jan. 1. “It’s sort of spiraling out of control… People get a sense that this is not our country; how can this happen here?” says Teorell. “People have a sense that it’s drawing closer to their everyday lives.”
In response to an upsurge in fatal shootings, the Social Democratic government recently increased police resources and introduced tougher sentences. Opposition parties disagree. Andersson has partly blamed “too much immigration and too little integration” for the issue, a sign that center-left parties are veering right on some issues in response to the surge in poll numbers for Sweden Democrats in recent years.
“So many of these members of the gang who commit crimes are quite young. Many of them get recruited when they are, say nine or 10 years old,” says Anders Sannerstedt, a political science professor at Lund University.
Political parties are being forced to make this a top priority on their campaign trails due to increasing gang violence. The Sweden Democrats are more aggressive in their opposition to immigration than the Social Democrats, but they have also advocated for understanding the root causes of the problem. “They tried to stress that… we have to fix the welfare state… So they are focusing on the social side of why you become a gang member to begin with,” Teorell says.
Energy prices also top voters’ minds
In the midst of a rising cost of living, Prime Minister Andersson promised $23 billion to guarantee electricity companies’ liquidity. This is in spite of stagnant economic growth and increasing interest rates. “Many people are concerned with their electricity bills given Putin’s warfare on energy,” she said.
Kristersson proposed more use of nuclear power to address rising electricity costs. “The argument is that had we not shut down those power plants, we would basically be self-serving in terms of energy production, so we wouldn’t have to import any electricity from abroad and then the prices wouldn’t have soared as much after the war,” Teorell says.
Sweden Democrats have also criticized the country’s decision to close nuclear plants, calling it one of the “biggest political mistakes of modern times.” The current minority government led by the Social Democrats is committed to hydro, solar, and wind power.
The Sweden Democrats: Why are many concerned?
Sweden has not had a far-right party as a part of its ruling government before.
Jimmie Akesson is the leader of Sweden Democrats and insists that it has moved on from its racist roots. “Those who founded our party are no longer taking part,” he has told the AP. “Most of them disappeared already after one or two years. So the Sweden Democrats today is something different from what was founded about 30 years ago.” But critics still accuse the party of continuing racist rhetoric and policies.
Earlier this month, the party’s spokesman on criminal justice issues, Tobias Anderson, tweeted a post of the Sweden Democrats’ campaign ad on the subway. He wrote, “Welcome to the repatriation train. The one-way ticket is yours. Next stop, Kabul.”
Social Democrats and other groups were critical of the tweet. Andersson said she was worried about the Sweden Democrats’ “deep roots in the Swedish neo-Nazis and other racist organizations.” She highlighted an employee of the party sending an email out that invited people to celebrate the Nazi invasion of Poland. “That kind of invitation would never happen in any other parties in Sweden. Having said that, many of the voters of the Sweden Democratic party, they are decent people that are disappointed with the development,” she said.
Some worry that the Sweden Democrats’ rising poll numbers has pushed Andersson to tack right in certain areas, particularly around identity and immigration.
Andersson was last month accused of using racist language within her party. Saida Hussein Moge (a Swedish Somali politician) left the Social Democrats last month after her comments about Sweden’s lack of ethnic clusters located in large cities. “We do not want to have Chinatowns in Sweden, we do not want to have Somalitowns or Little Italies.”
Akesson for his part welcomes the more tough stance. “Fundamentally, it is a good thing. We desire to improve society. We are determined to improve the lives of others. So we welcome when other parties adopt our policies,” he said.
It’s an example, some say, of the far-right party’s growing influence whatever the outcome of Sunday’s vote.
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