Three days after the polls closed, the winner of Sweden’s too-close-to-call general election remains unknown. However, as officials count the final votes, one winner has already emerged: the country’s far right.
The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, once considered fringe, are on the verge of upending Swedish politics and the country’s reputation as a haven for progressive, pluralistic ideals.
By Tuesday night, 95 percent of the votes had been counted, and the party had received a best-ever 20.6 percent, making it the Riksdag’s second-largest party and its leading voice on the right.
The SD, led by 43-year-old lawmaker Jimmie Akesson, and the Moderate, Christian Democrat, and Liberal parties have a combined 49.7 percent of the vote, giving them a narrow lead over Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s Social Democrats and their Left, Center, and Environment allies.
If the current trend continues, the SD could lead a center-right coalition by a single seat. The final tally is scheduled for Wednesday. Forming a government could take weeks.
Whatever the outcome, the race has already reshaped political discourse, bringing anti-immigrant and tough-on-crime rhetoric into the political mainstream and escalating concerns in Sweden about the polarization – or “Americanization” – of Swedish politics.
The strong showing of the SD has been welcomed by the European far right. “Everywhere in Europe, people aspire to reclaim control of their destiny!” said Marine Le Pen, France’s far-right firebrand.
The outcome may also shape Sweden’s global standing as the country works with partners to respond to the Ukraine war, seeks NATO membership, and assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union in 2023.
The SD gained support by taking a tougher stance against crime, particularly rising rates of gun violence in Sweden, and by releasing a 30-point plan aimed at making Sweden’s immigration rules among the most stringent in the EU. They want to be able to reject asylum seekers based on religion, for instance, or based on gender or sexual identity.
Sweden’s liberal immigration policies were not a major political issue a decade ago. The 2015 migrant influx into Europe began to change this. Sweden accepted over 150,000 asylum seekers at the time, including many newcomers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Concerns about immigration and integration have risen in the years since.
The Social Democrats maintain that they have reduced asylum claims by making it more difficult for migrants to enter the country and apply for asylum, that they have increased deportation of asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected, and that Sweden should not receive more asylum seekers than other EU countries. Party leaders also promised to reduce the number of “non-Nordic” immigrants in areas with a high concentration of immigrants, putting an end to “Somalitowns,” “Chinatowns,” and “Little Italies.”
The Sweden Democrats, founded in 1988 by right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis, did not receive enough votes to gain seats in parliament until 2010. Following that breakthrough, leaders began to exclude the party’s most extreme members.
Other parties and the media have avoided the SD, refusing to engage with it or give it a platform. However, support for the party has grown rapidly over the last decade, culminating in its election showing on Sunday.
After being ignored by the mainstream media for so long, the party has developed its own online news sites and is extremely effective on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.
The SD was once avoided by the Moderates, the largest of the center-right parties. However, it eventually decided to form ties in order to upset the political status quo and unseat the Social Democrats.
It is debatable whether the SD is now a “ordinary party.” Though the party has moved away from its neo-Nazi roots and some of its previous positions, its platform remains exclusionary.
Members want to end non-European immigration and return Muslims to their home countries. A month before the election, an SD spokesman tweeted a photo of a subway train in the party’s blue and yellow colors, captioned “Welcome aboard the repatriation express.” Here is your one-way ticket. Kabul is up next!”