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Sweden holds election expected to boost anti-immigrant party

Nooshi Dadgostar, leader of the Left Party, campaigns in Vasteras, Sweden (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency/AP)
Nooshi Dadgostar, leader of the Left Party, campaigns in Vasteras, Sweden (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency/AP)

Sweden is holding an election that is expected to boost a populist anti-immigration party which is vowing to crack down on gang violence that has shaken many people’s sense of security.

The Sweden Democrats won seats in parliament for the first time in 2010 and have steadily gained more votes in parliament with each election. The party’s fortunes have risen following massive migration in recent years, particularly in Europe’s crisis year of 2015, and as crime has grown in segregated neighbourhoods.

The populist party was founded by far-right extremists decades ago, but in recent years has worked hard to change its image. For many years, voters viewed it as unacceptable and other parties shunned it. That is now changing.

Sweden Election
People cast their votes at a polling station in the suburb of Rinkeby outside Stockholm, Sweden (Ali Lorestani/TT News Agency/AP)

Polls ahead of the vote projected that the Sweden Democrats, which won 13% in 2018, will take about 20% of the vote this time and become the second-largest party in the parliament. That would put it only behind the centre-left Social Democrats of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

Md Andersson enjoys high approval ratings. The 55-year-old became Sweden’s first female prime minister less than a year ago and was at the helm as Sweden made its historic bid to join Nato following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Zeth Isaksson, a sociologist from Stockholm University who specialises in electoral behaviour, said her image has benefited from her experience in government, first as finance minister, through crises including the Covid-19 pandemic and, as prime minister, in the negotiations to join Nato.

“Magdalena Andersson is one of the most important factors in this election,” he told The Associated Press.

Sweden Election
People queue at a polling station in Malmo to cast their votes in Sweden’s general election (Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AP)

But many voters have also tired of her party, which has been in power for eight years, blaming it for high taxes and for failing to stem the shootings that have made Sweden one of Europe’s most violent countries.

“She has had eight years to do everything that she’s now saying she’s going to do,” said Bosse Adolfsson, a 70-year-old partly retired electrician who joined a rally of the Sweden Democrats on Saturday evening. “She is asking for four more years to not do anything.”

There are two major blocs: one with four parties on the left and another with four on the right. The polls leading up to the election showed the blocs running neck and neck.

Sweden Elections
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks during an election rally in Celsiustorget, Uppsala (Pontus Lundahl/TT News Agency/AP)

Even if Ms Andersson’s party wins the most votes, if the left-wing bloc does poorly, she might not be able to form a government with a majority in parliament. In that case, it would go to the party in second place to get its chance to form a government.

On the eve of the vote, Ms Andersson campaigned in an immigrant diverse suburb of Stockholm, Rinkeby, speaking to a crowd after a warm-up act by a Swedish hip hop artist with Somali roots.

Ms Andersson said she is concerned about the rising popularity of the Sweden Democrats, characterizing it as a “far-right” party whose rhetoric and beliefs could affect how welcome people could feel in society.

“It could be a different Sweden that we could have in four years,” she said.

The Sweden Democrats wrapped up their election campaign on Saturday with a loud, rock music-filled event, just metres from the country’s parliament building in central Stockholm.

Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson campaigns at Stortorget in Malmo (Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AP)

Jimmie Akesson, the 43-year-old leader who has helped revamp the party’s image, addressed his supporters from a stage decorated with the party’s daisy symbol along the city waterfront.

The party has clearly tapped into the social mood, and other parties have been moving closer to its positions, as many Swedes believe they can no longer bear the costs of the country’s generous refugee policies of the past. Rising crime under eight years of left-wing rule are also convincing some to give it a chance.

Tobias Andersson, a 26-year-old member of parliament for the Sweden Democrats who is seeking a second term, said his party is being unfairly characterised as racist by opponents because it serves their interests.

“I wasn’t even born when my party was founded, I don’t really care who founded it. I look at the values and policies that we support today,” he told the AP at the party rally.

He said other parties that have accused the Sweden Democrats of being racist are now “pushing forward the same policies themselves”.