The biggest story of Sweden’s election is a familiar one: Political fragmentation

Arturo Kim
September 12, 2018

A far-right party which campaigned with an anti-migrant message is thought to have taken around one in five votes in Sweden's elections.

Sweden's economy is booming but many voters are concerned that housing, healthcare and welfare services have come under pressure from a wave of immigration during the 2015 migrant crisis.

"Terrible! I just wanna cry when I think about it", Veronica Lundqvist said, referring to the Sweden Democrats after she left a voting booth in Stockholm.

If the Sweden Democrats win a quarter of the vote, it would be a sensation in a country described as a "humanitarian superpower" in 2014 by the prime minister of the time, the Moderate party's Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Claiming a kingmaker role for this party, Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, said in a speech at his campaign headquarters that his party will now have "influence over Swedish politics".

While most pollsters see the two blocs winning roughly equal support, the figures for the Sweden Democrats differ widely between surveys.

Neither the conservative/liberal block nor the progressive block will have its own majority, they might even end up with exactly the same share of the votes on Wednesday when the final ballots of overseas Swedes are counted, which means that the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats will keep gaining influence.

Both the governing center-left Social Democrats and the center-right Moderates recorded among their worst results in modern history, with the rival blocs led by both parties left in virtually a dead heat.

The Social Democrats have ruled out cooperating with the Sweden Democrats, but party secretary Richard Jomshof has said they want to be part of government. Parallel to that development, several opinion pieces of Swedish dailies have downplayed the racism of the Sweden Democrats. Meanwhile, next-door in Finland, the populist True Finns party was included in the center-right government in 2016.

The Sweden Democrats, which has roots in a neo-Nazi movement but has worked to soften its image, won 17.6 percent, up from 13 percent in 2014, for a third-place finish.

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With a steady rise in popularity of the Sweden Democrats, immigration has become the hot topic of the election.

The Sweden Democrats' gains underscored a broader shift to the right in one of Europe's most socially progressive nations.

STOCKHOLM - Sweden faced weeks of uncertainty after its mainstream center-left and center-right blocs emerged in a dead heat from an election on Sunday, while the far-right - which neither wants to deal with - made gains on a hardline anti-immigrant platform. "I will work on calmly, as prime minister, respecting voters and the Swedish electoral system", Lofven told a party rally.

Akesson was jubilant as he addressed supporters a day later, declaring the estimated 14 parliament seats the Social Democrats picked up a victory other parties could not ignore in coalition negotiations.

The Expressen tabloid said in editorial that "it all pointed at the Sweden Democrats taking over the position as Sweden's second-biggest party".

The left-wing coalition, which includes the ruling Social Democrats, received the most votes, securing 40.6 percent.

But the surge crystallized long-running worries about Sweden's ability to integrate immigrant groups, turning what had been a taboo issue into one that dominated airwaves and the political conversation. If he loses that, the speaker of parliament presents a new candidate to become prime minister.

That message has resonated with a growing number of people in recent years, as concerns rose over high-profile incidents of gang violence, an influx of refugees and regional economic inequality.

Rather than copying the far-right's emotional appeals toward identity and its criticism of the state, mainstream parties should offer voters fresh alternatives, Berman said.

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