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Explainer: The Swedish right are likely taking over, but what does it mean for Europe?

The country’s right-wing bloc is expected to oust the incumbent Social Democrats.

Moderate party leader Ulf Kristersson delivers a speech at the party's election watch at the Clarion Sign Hotel on Sunday.
Moderate party leader Ulf Kristersson delivers a speech at the party's election watch at the Clarion Sign Hotel on Sunday.
Image: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

SWEDEN’S INCUMBENT LEFT-WING party looks set to be ousted following the country’s general election, which has seen the far-right Sweden Democrats make huge gains.

Sweden went to the polls on Sunday to elect members to the 349-seat Riksdag as well as to local offices across the country, which has seen mounting political instability in recent years due to the gradual rise of the far-right.

With 95% of electoral districts counted so far, election authorities have said they do not expect a final result until today, when the last ballots from abroad and from advance voting are counted.  

But what will a win for the right-wing bloc mean for Sweden, and for the rest of Europe?

What is the likely outcome of the vote?

Sweden’s right-wing bloc of political parties is made up of the Sweden Democrats, the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats and Liberals. Overall, they have won 49.7% of the vote so far.

The nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats has increased its polling in the last nine elections. This time around, it has been credited with nearly 21% of votes, its best result yet.

It is expected to become the second largest party in Sweden, which would allow it to work with the centre-right Moderates to defeat the left-wing bloc, headed by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and form a government.

On Monday, the right bloc was credited with an absolute majority of 175 of 349 seats in parliament. Andersson’s left bloc trailed with 174.

If confirmed, the Social Democrats would be out after eight years in power.

Who are the Sweden Democrats?

The Sweden Democrats party was founded in 1988 by former members of the Sweden Party, which was born out of the Bevara Sverige Svenskt (‘Keep Sweden Swedish’) fascist group and the Swedish Progress Party. 

The party’s first chairman, Anders Klarström, was linked to the neo-Nazi Nordic Realm Party. Its first auditor, Gustaf Ekström, was a Waffen-SS veteran and had been a member of the national socialist party Svensk Socialistisk Samling in the 1940s.

Having been treated as a pariah on the larger political spectrum for years, the centre-right Moderate party embraced cooperation with the far-right party in 2019.

The current party leader Jimmie Akesson joined the Sweden Democrats in the 1990s and took over its leadership in 2005, when voter support was steadily around 1%.

sweden-election Sweden Democrats' party leader Jimmie Akesson campaigning in Malmo last week. Source: Johan Nilsson/TT

The party underwent a makeover under Akesson, who vowed to rid it of its racist and violent roots. In 2012, it announced a “zero tolerance“ policy against racism and extremism, something critics have denounced as superficial. 

In August, an investigative report by Swedish research group Acta Publica found that 289 politicians from parties represented in parliament were involved in either racist or Nazi activities. 214 of them were from the Sweden Democrats.

If the right-wing bloc does gain the largest number of seats, Akesson is unlikely to become prime minister. Moderate party leader Ulf Kristersson is the current favourite to take the role, but this could change depending on the final count. 

What are their policies?

The party’s anti-immigration stance has been well documented, with its rise in popularity coming alongside Sweden’s increased immigration. Akesson himself has claimed that Muslim immigration is “our biggest foreign threat since the Second World War”.

The country has welcomed around half a million asylum seekers in the past decade, largely due to the war in Syria. It has quickly become one of the most multicultural countries in Europe, with over a third of the population having been born abroad or having a parent who was born abroad.

The Sweden Democrats has linked the surge of predominantly Muslim immigrants to an increase in gun violence and gang crime in some of the country’s suburbs. The police have recorded 273 shootings so far this year, with the current record number of 379 shootings set in 2020. 

The party is seeking to reduce the Swedish asylum legislation to the EU legal minimum level, meaning “almost zero asylum immigration,” Akesson has said. 

In a 30-point plan entitled “Sweden’s future migration policy“, the party sets out how it aims to change the rules around who has the right to claim asylum in Sweden as well as the asylum process itself.

It is also calling for longer prison sentences, a wider use of deportation and is seeking to reform the country’s welfare system, which it says “should be for Swedish citizens”.

Once in favour of a “Swexit”, the party abandoned the idea of leaving the European Union in 2019 due to a lack of public support.

While other European far-right parties have expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Sweden Democrats has come out in favour of Ukraine in the war and expressed support for Sweden’s NATO membership bid, a notion it had opposed until Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

What would their victory mean for the rest of Europe?

If the party succeeds in coming to power in Sweden, it could mean a concerning trend of emerging mainstream extremism in Europe. 

Far-right parties have mostly been kept out of the seat of power on the continent. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party made gains, but she failed to beat Emmanuel Macron in the presidential election earlier this year.

However, Italy is set to the polls in two weeks, and it is expected that Giorgia Meloni’s “post-fascist” Brothers of Italy party, with direct links to Benito Mussolini’s fascism movement, will dominate a conservative coalition.

With wins predicted for both conservative, right-wing parties, this could form the beginning of a pattern for the rest of Europe. 

Additional reporting by © AFP 2022

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Jane Moore

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