On Sunday 9 September, Sweden will vote to elect a new Riksdag. As in other recent European elections, immigration and the EU will be key issues. The vote is being followed closely outside of the country because of the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD). Support for traditional parties of the centre-left and centre-right has sagged, and the populist, anti-immigration SD look like they could double their vote share.
The Sweden Democrats party was founded in 1988, and has its roots in the white nationalist movement in Sweden in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, since the mid-1990s the party has been working to distance itself from its past and, since 2005, has been led by the charismatic Jimmie Åkesson, who had success in “detoxifying” the SD brand. Critics argue this is purely cosmetic, but supporters point out that there have been several high-profile expulsions of members with more extreme views.
Even if they come first, the influence of the Sweden Democrats may well be limited. It is highly unlikely that the party will be able to form a government. No single party has won an outright majority in a Swedish election since 1968, and so a coalition government will almost certainly be necessary. However, the SD may find themselves as “kingmakers”, able to decide which party actually governs. So, how would they wield their power? What would their policies be, and how would they change Sweden?
What do our readers think? First of all, there is definitely a general feeling among our readers that the SD will do well in the elections. We had a comment from Tom, who thinks the Sweden Democrats will definitely achieve at least second place during the upcoming elections (and could even end up taking the most votes of any party). Might he be right?
To get a reaction, we spoke to Kristina Winberg, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) with the Sweden Democrats. Was she feeling confident?
Yes, indeed, because in the latest polls you can see that Sweden Democrats are rising and I have checked the latest opinion institutions and we are just now the second largest party. So, we might be the biggest party.
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Stephen Brown, Managing Editor of POLITICO in Brussels. How would he respond?
I was surprised when I was in Sweden recently that senior politicians from the top two parties – the traditional two parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderates – both brought up the question of what happens if the Sweden Democrats do take first place. So it is in people’s minds. I think it’s more likely that they’ll take second place or third place, but they will register strong gains. There’s almost no doubt about that.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Hugo, who doesn’t think the Sweden Democrats have solutions to fix the “real issues” facing the country, and instead use immigrants as scapegoats. Is he right? Do the Sweden Democrats have a vision for Swedish society? Or are they a single-issue party focused only on migration?
In her response, Kristina Winberg certainly doesn’t deny that her party focuses on immigration, but counters that a tougher approach to immigration will also fix the other problems in society, such as healthcare, schooling, housing, and everything else:
Hugo, this is quite an interesting question because if you see in Sweden we have had this mass immigration and that makes changes in our society in different ways. You can see it in the welfare system, like healthcare, schooling, housing, everything. So we are quite good on the questions about healthcare, law and order, and a lot of issues.
Finally, how would Stephen Brown (who has previously spent time reporting from Stockholm and follows Swedish politics closely) respond to the same comment? Does he think the Sweden Democrats are a single-issue party without any serious policy ideas outside of immigration?
They do have some strong thoughts on a few other issues, including the European Union and the euro; I think they can be definitely included as one of the Eurosceptic parties across Europe. That doesn’t mean necessarily that they give any convincing solutions: getting out of the European Union is not in itself a policy proposal, is it? You’ve got to go tell people what you would do instead. Sweden has benefited greatly from being in the European Union; the European Union benefits greatly from Sweden’s presence. I don’t really see that they’re providing any useful policy ideas when it comes to that.
They would also argue that they have a strong line, a strong contribution to the debate on the issue of violent crime, which I know is prominent in people’s mind in Sweden at the moment. I don’t see in their policy proposals anything radical, actually. I don’t see in their policy proposals on crime anything that the Social Democrats and the Moderates either both or individually haven’t already proposed.
How will the far-right change Sweden? Do they have proposals and ideas for society beyond immigration? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!