A growing far-right political bloc in Sweden, defined by a nationalistic and anti-immigration platform, made significant gains in the country’s parliamentary elections held Sunday, although the country’s political future remains unclear.
The right-wing party known as the Sweden Democrats — whose political roots are reportedly steeped in white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements — won 18 percent of the vote, up from 13 percent four years ago, according to returns Sunday night with about 80- percent of the vote counted.
Despite the party’s growing strength, the mainstream center-right and social-democratic parties have vowed to not work with the insurgent political group following scathing remarks by leader Jimmie Akesson.
During an election rally days before the polls opened in Sweden, Mr. Akesson said high unemployment levels among the country’s immigrants is due to their lack of Swedish heritage, telling supporters the newcomers simply “don’t belong” in the Scandinavian nation.
The comments fell in line with the virulent political rhetoric against the flood of immigrants coming into Sweden, most are refugees who are fleeing war-torn nations in the Middle East and North Africa. This rhetoric that has resonated with Swedes who frustrated over the country’s stagnant economy.
Similar frustrations over sluggish economic performance by European Union countries, still reeling from the 2010 debt crisis, coupled with anger at the influx of refugees into the EU, have propelled formerly fringe nationalistic political groups into power across the continent over the last year, including in Italy, Hungary and Britain.
Donald Trump secured the White House in 2016 on a platform based in part on immigration limits, including a blanket ban on all immigrants from several Muslim nations and the creation of a wall along the southwestern U.S. border. Leaders in Germany, Austria and other EU countries are also being pressed from the political right over immigration.
According to Sweden’s national election commission, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s governing Social Democrats had 28.1 percent of the vote, their lowest level of support in more than a century, making it likely to lose a significant number of seats.
The conservative-leaning Moderates party was next at 19.2 percent, just ahead of the Sweden Democrats’ 17.9 percent.
These results Sunday made a natural majority for either bloc in the 175 seats in the Riksdagen, Sweden’s parliament, meaning there could be weeks or months of talks to hammer out a coalition government.
However, despite their vows to sideline the Sweden Democrats from any parliamentary power-sharing deal, Mr. Loven is under tremendous pressure to cobble together a coalition government — one most political experts say must include the Sweden Democrats.
Annie Loof, a top party leader in Mr. Lofven’s political bloc, said the prime minister should immediately step down if his Social Democrats cannot cobble together a new coalition government in the Parliament.
“If he steps down tonight that process could start tomorrow morning. If he doesn’t resign, we will vote him down in a couple of weeks,” she said in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen on Friday, just after the last major round of debates ahead of Sunday’s vote, according to The Guardian.
Officials in Stockholm initiated much harsher immigration requirements in 2015 after Sweden took in a record 163,000 asylum seekers that year. The country has taken in a total of 600,000 asylum seekers over the last five years, according to recent reports. While the number of asylum seekers in Sweden has diminished in the subsequent years, as a result of those changes, the massive immigrant influx has been the source of tremendous fodder for groups like the Sweden Democrats.
But during a final campaign rally ahead of Sunday’s election, Mr. Lofven said the race was about maintaining common decency within Sweden’s political system, not about indulging in knee-jerk reactions to the country’s economic and immigration struggles.
“This election is a referendum about our welfare,” he said in a speech ahead of the vote. “It’s also about decency, about a decent democracy … and not letting the Sweden Democrats, an extremist party, a racist party, get any influence in the government.”
Even a partial victory for the Sweden Democrats in Sunday’s elections could put the country on the road to their own exit from the European Union, one former Swedish prime minister warned.
The political capital gained from even securing 20 percent of the parliamentary vote could trigger a political push for a “Swexit” from the EU, former Prime Minister Carl Bildt told CNBC on Sunday. Such a decision poses “the biggest single danger to Sweden’s future prosperity,” he added.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire reports.