Sweden, currently in the delicate process of joining NATO, has since 2014 been governed by the Social Democrats which have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s

Crime and the far right set the tone for Sweden’s vote

Sweden, currently in the delicate process of joining NATO, has been ruled by the Social Democrats since 2014, who have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s – Copyright AFP Yuichi YAMAZAKI

Johannes LEDEL

Sweden’s right-wing parties are hoping to topple the ruling Social Democrats in Sunday’s general election, relying for the first time on support from the far right in a tight race in which crime comes first.

The anti-immigration and nationalist Swedish Democrats have long been seen as pariahs in the Scandinavian country’s political arena, but in the last few years they have been gradually welcomed into the right-wing bloc.

Recent opinion polls have shown they could become the second largest party in parliament, meaning their support will be essential if the right is to form a government.

Sweden, which is currently in the delicate process of joining NATO, has been ruled by the Social Democrats since 2014, who have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who took office just nine months ago after seven years as finance minister, enjoys strong support among voters.

According to a late-August poll, about 55 percent want her to stay at work, compared with 32 percent for her conservative moderate challenger Ulf Kristersson.

Andersson has earned the respect of voters for firmly leading the country and leading it to the long-unthinkable filing for NATO membership in May following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Before that, militarily, Sweden had not joined the alliance for two centuries.

Most polls almost deadlock the left and right blocs, attributing 49.1 to 50.1 percent of voter support to the left and 49.2 to 49.9 percent to the right.

When forming a government, the Social Democrats can count on the support of the Green, Left and Center parties, while the right bloc is made up of moderates, Christian Democrats, liberals and Swedish Democrats.

However, both blocs suffer from internal divisions that will complicate the process of forming a government.

– Gang Violence –

The campaign was dominated by issues close to the right of voters, and crime, immigration, and skyrocketing electricity prices overshadowed the welfare state and the economy.

“Inflation has skyrocketed and the same goes for crime and shootings, and these are contextual factors that should benefit the right-wing opposition,” Patrick Oberg, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, told AFP.

Sweden has struggled to deal with a growing number of shootings related to the struggle for the drug and gun market, and now the country leads the European statistics in the number of deaths from firearms.

While the violence was once limited to places frequented by criminals, it has spread to public places like parks and shopping malls, raising concerns among ordinary Swedes in a country long known to be safe and peaceful.

Addressing the mother of a 12-year-old girl killed by stray bullets in a 2020 gang-related shootout, Andersson and Kristersson lamented the rise in violence during Wednesday’s televised debate.

“No other country in Europe has what we have,” Kristersson said.

“What we are seeing in Sweden is terrible,” Andersson agrees.

Since January 1, 48 people have died from firearms in Sweden, three more than in all of 2021. Explosions of houses and cars and grenade attacks also became more frequent.

– “Great shift” –

The end of the Swedish Democrats’ political isolation and the prospect of them becoming the largest right-wing party is “a huge shift in Swedish society,” said Anders Lindberg, editor of the left-wing tabloid Aftonbladet.

Born from a neo-Nazi movement in the late 1980s, the Swedish Democrats entered Parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of the vote.

The party’s anti-immigration stance and defense of the cherished Swedish welfare state appealed to the working class and pensioners.

Its growth has been accompanied by a large influx of immigrants, with a country of 10 million receiving nearly half a million asylum seekers in a decade.

While Kristersson remains Andersson’s prime ministerial challenger, if the far right catches up with the moderates as the largest party on the right, it will be a heavy blow to him.

If the right-wing bloc were to win a majority, the Swedish Democrats could demand a seat in the cabinet rather than just provide informal support in parliament.

“We want to have maximum influence, so it’s clear that our starting point is to be in government,” Swedish Democratic leader Jimmy Akesson told AFP.

“Otherwise, it will be expensive for the government to have us on board.”

Opening the door to the Swedish Democrats could be a costly gamble for Kristersson.

“If the moderates lose the election and become the third largest party, they will change the party leader,” Jan Theorell, a professor of political science at Stockholm University, told AFP.

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