Anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats celebrate election gains

The end result of Sweden’s elections may still be unknown, but it is already clear who the biggest winners are: the nationalist Sweden Democrats.

Long ostracised by the political mainstream due to their roots in the neo-Nazi movement, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are now the largest party among the rightwing opposition, which holds a slender lead over the ruling leftwing bloc with a full preliminary result only due on Wednesday.

One word was on the lips of many Sweden Democrats MPs who spoke to the Financial Times at a raucous party on Sunday evening on the outskirts of Stockholm. “It is revenge,” said Henrik Vinge, deputy leader.

Linus Bylund, its chief of staff, added: “It is revenge because the other parties have treated us badly — even the three [rightwing] parties on our side. But time passes and time heals.”

Should the rightwing bloc win, then the Sweden Democrats are set to gain influence at a national level for the first time in the country, leaving just Germany, France and Belgium with a so-called cordon sanitaire around their far-right parties. The current gap to the ruling leftwing coalition is just 47,000 votes, equivalent to the average size of one constituency seat.

Since bringing the Sweden Democrats in from the cold in the past two years by allying with them on issues such as crime and immigration, the mainstream centre-right bloc has said it would not want the nationalists in government, but merely as a support party in parliament.

But the Sweden Democrats are likely to make even greater demands now that they appear to have won more votes than likely prime minister Ulf Kristersson’s Moderates to become the second-biggest party. About 94 per cent of votes have already been counted, with the centre-left Social Democrats continuing their record of coming in first place in every election since 1917.

“We would like to go into government,” said Richard Jomshof, party secretary. “There is a lot of pressure from our voters. I’m not sure they would settle for being outside government.” He even suggested that the party could lay claim to the post of prime minister, something the three centre-right parties in a potential coalition are unlikely to agree to.

The Sweden Democrats have their base in southern Sweden, the entry point for most immigrants and notorious for deadly shootings in the city of Malmö.

That also means that the party knows well the fate of its sister group just across the Øresund strait. The Danish People’s party shocked the establishment in Copenhagen in 2015 by becoming the largest rightwing group but refused to enter government. It has since been all but wiped out in Denmark’s opinion polls, as voters appear to have punished the party for refusing to take office while the centre-left has stolen many of its policies.

“The Danish People’s party’s biggest mistake was that they never dared to take an active part in government. We want to do that. I’m not here for the sake of the Sweden Democrats. I want to make change in Sweden,” said Jomshof.

The Sweden Democrats caused a shockwave when they first entered parliament in 2010. Political stability has been increasingly elusive since then, with the mainstream parties trying to deny them influence.

Social Democrat prime minister Magdalena Andersson was forced to govern twice with a rightwing coalition, resigned after just seven hours in the job late last year and was only rescued by a Swedish-Kurdish MP who later almost derailed the country’s application to join Nato.

Magdalena Andersson
Prime Minister and Social Democratic leader Magdalena Andersson delivers a speech at the party’s election watch on Sunday © Jonas Ekströmer/TT News Agency/AP

Kristersson, whose Moderate party lost ground despite promises to tackle crime and immigration, sought to present himself as a potential prime minister, saying he would try to unite the nation as it got closer to Nato membership and taking over the EU presidency on January 1.

But he faces a real struggle to cobble together a viable coalition if the results are confirmed. A one-seat majority would test his ability to reconcile the Liberals and the Sweden Democrats.

Anders Borg, a former Moderate finance minister, said he thought there would be a rightwing government. “On the crucial issues like migration, fiscal policy, energy and investment, I don’t think the differences will be that huge,” he said.

Borg, whose wife is of Jewish origin, downplayed fears about the Sweden Democrats’ roots, saying they were now a “centre-right party”, adding: “I don’t think people are that worried. Sweden will be the same.”

The Sweden Democrats would join other anti-immigration parties in the Nordic region in gaining influence, after the Progress party entered government in Norway and the True Finns in Finland. But neither had their origins in a movement quite like the “Keep Sweden Swedish” one.

The nationalists argue they are ready for power, pointing to their experience in Sölvesborg, a small southern town where a party member was mayor and where they increased their share of the vote on Sunday by 10 percentage points.

They feel that they also are reaping the benefits of having consistently warned that Sweden’s immigration policies — among the most generous in Europe until a clampdown on arrivals from 2015 — would lead to a rise in crime.

“Consistency helps. This is a trust business. Since we are conservatives our voters count that we stand solid. We are the party that has changed the least over the past 20 years,” said Bylund.

As the thumping techno beats from their party faded on Sunday, the euphoria remained for the Sweden Democrats, on the cusp of national influence for the first time. Jomshof said: “This is an incredible milestone. For the first time, we are a legitimate partner in a new government. We are not alone any more.”

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