Exit polls suggest that the far right has narrowly failed to make a breakthrough in a knife-edge election in Sweden.
According to polling station research by SVT Swedish television, the incumbent minority Social Democrat government and its parliamentary allies are on course for a majority of three seats. The poll also suggests the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) are now the country’s second largest political party, potentially taking more than 20% of the vote and outpolling the centre-right Moderates for the first time.
A conclusive result will not be known until the early hours of Monday morning, and if the race is particularly close, the final reckoning may not come until the middle of the week. Small shifts in voter support among the eight main parliamentary parties could yet determine whether the next government is led by the left or the right.
For the first time, the main centre-right parties embraced cooperation with the SD, which had previously been treated as a pariah. The SD emerged from Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement in the mid-1990s and still struggles to shake off accusations of extremism.
The election has revealed Sweden to be a nation deeply ill at ease with immigration, with the SD able to exploit fears over violent crime to shift the political debate rightwards.
At the height of the campaign, the SD billed a metro train decorated in its electoral colours as the “repatriation express”. “Welcome aboard with a one-way ticket. Next stop, Kabul,” tweeted the party’s legal spokesperson, highlighting the SD’s demand to send non-European immigrants back where they came from.
Issues topping the list of voter concerns, such as energy price rises, failing schools and long queues for healthcare, were drowned out by a relentless focus on immigration, in an election campaign truncated somewhat by the war in Ukraine and Sweden’s subsequent decision to join Nato.
The electoral debate was also punctuated by gang violence. Two weeks ago, a woman and her five-year-old child were injured after being caught in crossfire in Eskilstuna, west of Stockholm. In Malmö a week earlier, a 15-year-old boy shot dead a gang leader in a shopping mall. The number of fatal shootings rose sharply to 34 in the first six months of this year, up from 20 in the same period of 2021.
Party leaders on the left and the right competed with each other to link the rise in violent crime to large-scale immigration, which has led to high levels of segregation along ethnic lines in the housing and jobs markets. In the space of a few decades, Sweden has become one of the most multicultural societies in Europe, with more than a third of the population having been born abroad or having a parent who was born abroad. About 30% of children do not have Swedish as their mother tongue, rising to 45% in parts of the cities.
The Social Democrats’ leader, Magdalena Andersson, the incumbent prime minister, said Sweden should have no “Somalitowns” with a high density of minority ethnic people, while her immigration minister proposed that the proportion of “non-Nordic” peoples should be capped in certain areas, echoing moves by Danish Social Democrats to forcibly eject non-European immigrants from so-called ghettos. The Social Democrats have lost working class voters to the far right, which is now the largest party among male members of the main trade union confederation.
In an escalating spiral of proposals, the Moderate party’s legal spokesperson suggested ADHD tests for five-year-olds in immigrant areas, because “in the country’s prisons, there is a large representation of people with ADHD”. The party has also lost voters to the SD.
Anyone living in an immigrant area had now become a problem, remarked Ewa Sternberg, respected political correspondent for the liberal Dagens Nyheter: “It is hard to believe that these parties would have tabled proposals such as these 10 years ago.”
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This was the first time that migration and minority ethnic people had become the focus of a general election in Sweden, thanks to the growing influence of the SD, said Tobias Hübinette, a lecturer in intercultural studies at Karlstad University. “You could say that Sweden has caught up with the rest of Europe in this respect,” he said.
Elsewhere in the Nordic region, anti-immigrant parties such as the Danish People’s party, the Progress party in Norway, and the True Finns in Finland, have entered into coalition or support relationships with the mainstream centre-right. But each has subsequently had its support dented, splintered, or even decimated by proximity to power.
Problems experienced by immigrants in Sweden were previously discussed in terms of shortcomings in the Swedish model, but now immigrants themselves had become the problem, said Jonas Hinnfors, politics professor at Gothenburg University.
“Immigration and crime became far more important in this election campaign, partly because reality changed, but also because the main parties have felt threatened by the Sweden Democrats,” he said. “Politics has moved towards areas where you are not only tough on crime and in favour of less immigration, but where you connect these two areas.”
This content was originally published here.