Swedish election: far right on course for sizeable gains in vote

09 09 18

The far-right Sweden Democrats were on course to make sizeable gains in Sweden’s election as exasperated voters retreated from the major parties, leaving the two main blocs neck-and-neck and the country facing weeks of political uncertainty.

The populist, anti-immigrant party won between 16.3% and 19.2% of the vote, according to early exit polls from two national broadcasters – well up on the 12.9% they scored in 2014, but far short of the 25%-plus polls had predicted earlier in the summer.

But the governing Social Democrats, led by prime minister Stefan Löfven, while maintaining their record of finishing first in every election since 1917, were projected to plunge to less than 26%, their worst score for over a century, and the main centre-right opposition Moderate party also slid badly, to about 18%.

On a good night for the smaller parties, the ex-communist Left nearly doubled its score to 9.8% and the centre-right Centre and Christian Democrat parties both advanced.

But the outcome, if the polls are proved correct, leaves the centre-right and centre-left blocs that have defined Swedish politics for decades neck-and neck, and well short of a parliamentary majority in the 349-seat Riksdag.

The new government, which could now take weeks to form, will need either cross-bloc alliances between centre-right and centre-left parties, or an accommodation with the Sweden Democrats, long shunned by all the other parties because of their extremist roots, to pass legislation – potentially giving the populists a say in policy.

The election was Sweden’s first since the government allowed 163,000 migrants into the country – the most per capita of any European nation – during Europe’s 2015 migration crisis, polarising the nation’s 7.3 million voters and magnifying popular concern about a welfare system many felt was already under strain.

Long waits for operations, shortages of doctors and teachers and a police force that has had difficulties dealing with a spate of gangland shootings and grenade attacks – often in deprived areas with high concentrations of immigrants – have all shaken faith in Sweden’s prized model of generous welfare and inclusiveness.

The often antagonistic campaign was largely dominated by themes of immigration, integration and welfare, with the Sweden Democrats repeatedly presenting the vote as a straight choice between immigration and welfare spending. “This government we have had … have prioritised, during these four years, asylum-seekers,” Jimmie Åkesson, the far-right party’s leader, told his final election rally this weekend. “Sweden needs breathing space. We need tight responsible immigration policies.”

Casting his ballot in Stockholm on Sunday, Löfven, whose government radically tightened immigration laws in 2015, also described the vote as “a referendum about our welfare”. But, he said: “It is also about decency, about a decent democracy … and about not letting the Sweden Democrats, an extremist party, a racist party, get any influence in the government.”

The centre-right Moderate party leader, Ulf Kristersson, said he was well aware Sweden would need “a strong cross-bloc cooperation to isolate the forces … pushing for Sweden to withdraw from international cooperation”.

Analysts predict long and complicated negotiations are now likely to build a majority, or – more likely – a minority that will not easily be sunk. The Moderate party is determined to oust Löfven, with some openly entertaining the once-unimaginable idea of bringing the Sweden Democrats in from the political cold if that would help.

But such a move could spell the end of the centre-right alliance since two of its members, the smaller Liberal and Centre parties, are fiercely opposed to any normalisation of relations with the populists. None of Sweden’s seven other parties will countenance any form of cooperation with the Sweden Democrats.

Far-right parties have made significant gains at the expense of the political mainstream across western Europe in recent years in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2015 refugee crisis, and are now in government in Italy, Austria, Norway and Finland.

“Traditional parties have failed to respond to the sense of discontent that exists,” said Magnus Blomgren of Umea University. “That discontent maybe isn’t directly related to unemployment or the economy, but simply a loss of faith in the political system. Sweden isn’t alone in this.”

SOURCE: Guardian


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