Far-Right Democrats Are on the Rise in Sweden’s National Elections

Stefan Lofven, leader of the Social Democratic Party, left, and Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party, take part in an election day debate Sunday. (Anders Wiklund / AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden has long been seen as the model of an open, liberal country with low crime and a strong social welfare system. But a campaign dominated by immigration and law-and-order issues has helped propel the far-right Sweden Democrats to new electoral heights: Nearly 1 in 5 Swedish voters backed the party, which has fascist and white nationalist roots and advocates a hard-line stance on immigration.

With nearly all the results in Sunday night, the Sweden Democrats won 17.6% of the vote — slightly less than projected, but still a significant increase over the 13% they won four years ago. They were again the third-strongest political force in Sweden, behind the center-left Social Democrats with 28.4% and the center-right Moderates with 19.8% of the vote.

Though all of the major parties have said they would be unwilling to form a coalition with the Sweden Democrats, their share of the vote will make forming a government without them extremely difficult.

Sunday’s election results in Sweden appear to reflect the broader political headwinds in Europe, which have seen right-wing populist parties such as the Sweden Democrats rise at the expense of traditional centrist parties such as the Social Democrats and the Moderates. In just the last year, similar parties have made significant gains in Germany, Italy and Austria, among others.

The Sweden Democrats’ gains come after they refocused their campaign largely on issues of law and order, a topic that has played a central role in Swedish politics since the 2015-16 refugee crisis in Europe. Sweden took in the highest per capita number of refugees in Europe: In this country of just under 10 million, more than 160,000 arrived in 2015 alone.

During the campaign, the Sweden Democrats ultimately painted a picture of a country in decline, blaming the influx of refugees for increasing discontent among the electorate. They advocate for a full halt on asylum-seekers and insisted the Swedish government focus its attention and resources on Swedish taxpayers first.

Though the unemployment rate is at a 10-year low and economic indicators suggest Sweden is doing well, a spate of incidents this summer fed the Sweden Democrats’ narrative that all is not well in this Nordic country. In mid-August, for example, the torching of dozens of cars in the western city of Gothenburg dominated Swedish and international headlines.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Emily Schultheis