Who is Jimmy Akesson, leader of the extreme right in Sweden?

Who is Jimmy Akesson, leader of the extreme right in Sweden?

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As leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats, Jimmy Akesson has turned his party from a pariah into a heavyweight whose backing is needed if the right-wing bloc wants to rule after Sunday’s election.

anti-immigration Swedish Democrats Take Off become the nation’s second largest party in legislative voting, scoring 20.7 percent with 94 percent of constituencies counted.

With his impeccably styled brown hair, glasses and neatly trimmed beard, the casually dressed 43-year-old looks like a normal person. Swede.

That’s par for the course for a man who, in his 17 years as party leader, transformed the often violent neo-Nazi movement known as “Keep Sweden Swedish” into a nationalist party with a flower as its logo.

“He wants to come across as a regular guy … who fries sausages, speaks normally and takes charter flights to the Canary Islands,” Jonas Hinnfors, professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg, told AFP.

“He does his best not to appear intellectual or educated,” he added.

Akesson grew up in a middle-class family with an entrepreneurial father and a mother who worked as a nurse’s assistant in Sölvesborg, a city of 9,000 people in southern Sweden.

It was there, in the small towns and estates of Scania, that the SD built its stronghold, despite concerns about the nearby immigrant city of Malmö.

Akesson joined the Swedish Democrats in the 1990s after a disappointing teenage stint in the main right-wing party, the conservative moderates.

After leaving Lund University without a degree, he took over the leadership of the SD in 2005, when voter support was stable at around one percent.

The party has undergone major changes, replacing the blue and yellow torch logo with an anemone and promising to shed its racist and violent roots.

Later in 2012, he announced a “zero tolerance” policy for racism, although these attempts are regularly condemned by critics as superficial.

In August, an investigative report by Swedish research group Acta Publica found that 289 politicians from parties represented in parliament were involved in either racist or Nazi activities, the vast majority of them – 214 – from Swedish Democrats.

Controversy regularly flares up over misguided members of the party, yet it manages to rise steadily in the polls nonetheless.

It received 5.7 percent of the vote when it entered parliament in 2010, 12.9 percent in 2014 when it became Sweden’s third largest party in parliament, and 17.5 percent in 2018.

Its rise came along with heavy immigration to Sweden. The country of 10.3 million has received about half a million asylum seekers in the past decade.

The party stole voters from both conservative moderates and social democrats, especially among the working class.

In addition, the fight against crime, which has long been one of the main problems of the party, for the first time became one of the main concerns of voters in Sunday’s elections amid a skyrocketing number of shootings.

“I think (our success) can be explained by the fact that people don’t think other parties take their problems seriously,” Akesson told AFP at a campaign rally in Stockholm in August.

Akesson, who once said Muslims were “the biggest external threat since World War II”, has softened the party’s rhetoric and policies over the years, in line with other nationalist parties in Europe, analysts say.

Once, in favor of Sveksit, the party abandoned the idea of ​​leaving the European Union in 2019 due to lack of public support.

And while other European far-right parties have expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the SD has come out in support of Ukraine in the war and expressed support for Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, which it had opposed prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to Hinnfors, the Swedish Democrats have evolved from a party “that says no to everything” to a party that looks at the parliamentary situation and begins to see where they can have the most influence, possibly cooperate and make the fewest possible compromises.”

However, Akesson’s dizzying career success took a toll on him.

In 2014, he admitted to an addiction to online gambling and then took a six-month leave from politics due to burnout.

A fan of crime novels whose favorite foods are pizza and French fries, Akesson is divorced and has an eight-year-old son.

(AFP)

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