Summary: Two weeks have passed since the general election in Sweden and still no government has been formed. Both of the two traditional blocks received around 40 % of the vote, and thus cannot form a majority on their own. While the xenophobic Sweden Democrats garnered unprecedented support and now constitute the largest third party, they have inspired a backlash. The left-wing party had its best showing in decades. — Editors
Eight years ago it came as shock to many Swedes that the Sweden Democrats, a xenophobic party with its roots in the Swedish neo-Nazi movement, had won seats in parliament. Four years later their vote tally nearly doubled. Two weeks ago, election results showed that they once again increased their support significantly: winning over 17.5 % of the electorate.
The Swedish parliament, the Sveriges riksdag, consists of 349 seats. Every four years a general election takes place. As of now, eight parties are represented in the parliament (the Left-wing party, the Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Centrist Party, the Liberals, the Moderats, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats). The Sweden Democrats is a party unlike the others. They campaigned on sharply reducing immigration, limiting the ability of immigrant families to unite, and undermining workers’ rights. They have consistently faced media scandals regarding sexist and racist statements made by party members, including party leadership. The party publicly acknowledges no founding organization. They have a newspaper, but it has very limited circulation. The story they wish to tell, however, is well known: immigration is destroying Sweden, and Swedish national identity must be restored.
Many of Sweden Democrats’s voters live in rural areas, regions that have suffered from stagnant development compared to urban centers. These regions are places where the Social Democratic Party has traditionally enjoyed strong support. However, this year the Social Democratic Party, still the largest party in parliament, had its worst election result in over a century. In addition, the leading right wing party, the Moderates, which has been the second largest party for decades, also lost votes. It is a trend we can see across Europe: established parties lose support to a xenophobic “brown-shirt” (i.e., neo-fascist) tendency. The trend has now officially come to Sweden.
One general characteristic of these brown-shirts seems to be an immunity to scandal. For some reason, their supporters are unfazed by reports of explicit racism or sexism. Similarly, Donald Trump continues to enjoy support from his followers despite his extremely racist and misogynist utterances. The Sweden Democrats have weathered several scandals other parties would not have. For example, a couple of years ago, three members of the Sweden Democrats—all men in their thirties who held parliament seats at the time—filmed themselves running through the streets of Stockholm with an iron stick and threatening women and immigrants. The video caused what is known as the “iron pipe-scandal.” While it certainly caused lots of trouble for the party, it did not diminish their overall support.
All the other establishment parties, with one exception, have tried to stop the growing support of the Sweden Democrats by refusing to negotiate with them, and by drawing attention to their roots in the neo-Nazi movement. And yet, at the same time, some establishment politicians have adopted some of their policies positions and rhetoric. In the summer of 2015, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of the Social Democratic Party stated that he would never to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to settle in Sweden. By November 24th of the same year, Löfven, together with the Green Party, effectively closed the Swedish border to migrants. Today, Sweden has one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies. A visual artist captured the nation’s self image at the time with a sculpture depicting a Swedish flag flying on a bent flagpole.
In a recent article in Dagens Nyheter, Malin Ullgren has suggested that the mainstream press and major party politicians contributed to the rise of the Sweden Democrats. Neither the press nor the establishment parties were willing to confront issues of class. Ullgren wrote that conceding that “we need to take seriously on people’s fear of immigration,” politicians and the press were inadvertently playing into the hands of the right wing. Ullgren maintains that the fear of the future that people feel in Sweden today did not originate in fear of other human beings. Instead it is rooted in issues such as an increasingly unstable job market, impaired social security systems, increasing class differences, and the like.
Corresponding with the changes on the political right worldwide, there have also been new forces emerging on the left. This is clearly evident in support for Bernie Sanders in the U.S., and for Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. However, in Sweden there has not yet been an equivalent turn to the left. The left wing party in Sweden (the only party which never vacillated in its stance toward the Sweden Democrats) enjoyed their best showing in years in the recent election. Holding to their principles, they increased their vote tally. Two weeks ago, they received 8 % of the total votes in the election.
Responding to the rise of the Sweden Democrats, Swedish youth have taken the lead in organizing around the promotion of asylum seekers’ rights. In 2015 many demonstrations and protests took place against the new immigration policies. What forms these new passions among the Swedish youth will take in the future remains to be seen.
Both the left-wing block and the right-wing block have promised to not seek support of the Sweden Democrats in the parliament, but neither block can form a majority on their own. The four parties that make up the right-wing block have each promised to not cooperate with the Social Democrats, and the Social Democrats have promised to not give support to the right-wing block. Therefore, the political situation remains deadlocked. Will any of the parties betray their promises and cooperate with the Sweden Democrats? Is a minority rule possible? Or will the situation go so far so that a new election will have to be called? The coming days will therefore be crucial in determining in which direction Sweden will go.