STOCKHOLM: Swedes went to the polls on Sunday with the far right expected to make big gains as voters unhappy about immigration punish one of Europe’s few remaining left-wing governments.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has called the election a “referendum on the future of the welfare state” but the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) have presented it as a vote on immigrants and their integration, after Sweden took in almost 400,000 asylum-seekers since 2012.
Opinion polls suggest SD could garner between 16 and 25 per cent of the vote, making it one of the biggest parties and rendering it almost impossible to predict the make-up of the next government. SD, with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, has said the arrival of asylum-seekers is a threat to Swedish culture and claims they put a strain on the country’s generous welfare state.
The Social Democrats, traditionally the biggest party and who have led a minority government with the Greens, have lost support on both the left and the right and are tipped to post their lowest score since 1911.
Anna Berglund, a 28-year-old lawyer who voted for the small Centre Party at a polling station in Stockholm’s upmarket Ostermalm neighbourhood, said SD’s mounting support was “bad news”. “I’m afraid we’re becoming a society that is more hostile to foreigners.”
According to the government authority Statistics Sweden’s latest figures, 18.5 per cent of the total population was born abroad.
While the final election results were due late Sunday, the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.
Lengthy negotiations will be needed to build a majority, or at least a minority that won’t be toppled by the opposite side.
The opposition is intent on ousting Lofven, with some Moderates willing to go so far as to put an end to SD’s pariah status and open negotiations with them.
That could prove fatal for the Alliance, with the Liberal and Centre parties repeatedly ruling out a deal with “the devil”, as Akesson occasionally calls himself.
A self-proclaimed nationalist, Akesson argues that multi-cultural values and customs prevent immigrants from assimilating into Swedish society.
None of the seven parties have been willing to negotiate with SD.
In an interview with AFP during the campaign, Akesson stressed he would “lay down his terms” after the election, citing immigration policy, crime-fighting and health care as priorities.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2018