Sweden heads to the polls on September 11 in an election that could see a once shunned far-right populist party make significant inroads and, with the help of right-wing opposition parties, even unseat the socialists from power. left-wing Democrats in power.
“I’m quite worried about the rise of far-right parties in this election,” said Nathalie Johansson, 35, a Stockholm-based IT consultant.
“Six months ago, if you had asked me what my biggest concern was about the upcoming elections, I would have said it was how governments plan to tackle climate change. But right now, the power of the far right worries many of us,” she said. DW.
The growing popularity of the anti-immigration nationalist Swedish Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi roots that first entered parliament 12 years ago, has rocked the election.
While polls put the Swedish Democrats at around 20%, far behind the Social Democrats, this election marks the first time that right-wing parties, the Conservatives, Liberals and Christian Democrats, have said they are ready to govern with the support of the extreme right.
Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, however, told DW that while voters are concerned about recent opinion polls suggesting Sweden’s far-right Democrats are likely to become the second biggest gone, that’s not the biggest cause for concern.
“The real risk is that if left or right parties fail to win a majority, Sweden could face a prolonged period without a government and even announce new elections,” he said.
Crime and gang violence are major concerns
This year’s elections come at a critical time for Sweden. The Nordic nation is currently going through a hostile environment with Russia and, like the rest of Europe, is also trying to find solutions to deal with an energy and inflationary crisis.
Kirkegaard explained that in addition to the rise of the far right, voters will take these aspects into account when casting their ballots this weekend.
“Rising inflation and the potential need to spend billions to bail out local utility companies are things voters will consider. Second, many people are also worried about crime in Sweden. The country has soared up the list of the most crime-infested countries in Europe in recent years, with gang warfare spreading from particularly troubled neighborhoods to a wide swath of Swedish urban areas,” he said.
Gang violence in Sweden is a major cause of concern for voters ahead of upcoming election
According to Reutersahead of the election, the Institute for Society, Opinion and Media at the University of Gothenburg published a report stating that since the start of the poll, 41% of Swedish voters said that crime was their main concern .
A Swedish voter who asked to remain anonymous told DW that while rising crime rates in her country are worrying, she is more concerned about how some political parties have linked rising crime to the increase in immigration.
“In my opinion, it should be linked to the failures of integration and the lack of good policies and interventions in the country,” she said.
A tough immigration policy
Sweden is one of the most open and immigration-friendly European countries. But according to Kirkegaard, this election could see her swing towards a much more restrictive immigration policy, mirroring restrictions in neighboring Denmark and other EU countries.
“Immigration has been a major political factor for Sweden’s far-right Democrats,” he told DW.
At a campaign rally in mid-August, the leader of the neo-Nazi Swedish Democrats, Jimmie Akesson, said: “Many Swedes are immensely tired of immigration, crime, electricity”.
In April, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson also told a press conference that the failure to integrate immigrants over the past two decades had caused violence and gang crime in the country.
“Integration has been too weak at the same time we’ve had immigration. Society has been too weak, resources for police and social services have been too weak,” she said.
Crowds demonstrate in Stockholm against right-wing Swedish Democrats in 2010
Jonna Mannberg, chair of the board of directors of Refugees Welcome Stockholm, a voluntary organization focused on helping displaced people in Sweden, expressed concern about such rhetoric being used by Swedish politicians.
“We have seen elected officials and political parties using populist language in this election to paint a picture of systemic failure, which they say is largely linked to welcoming many refugees. of the truth,” she told DW.
“What we consider to be one of the greatest threats to our democracy is legislation that violates the human rights of people seeking refuge in Sweden,” she added.
In 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, Sweden took in 163,000 refugees.
But Maanberg explained how in recent years asylum seekers have been ostracized in society and some of them have also started moving to other countries due to the strict immigration policy of Sweden.
Referring to the proximity of the upcoming election, Mannberg said, “This election, regardless of the outcome, will likely curtail their rights even further.”
Sweden’s NATO candidacy to influence votes?
Earlier this year, Sweden also renounced 200 years of military neutrality and submitted its application to join NATO – a decision that worries some young people.
Still, Kirkegaard explained that this would not influence the next election.
“The country is already firmly attached to Ukraine and its entry into NATO was supported by all centrist parties and a large majority of Swedes,” he said.
Some young Swedes are concerned about the country’s NATO membership
Alice Bah Kuhnke, a member of the European Parliament and a Swedish politician belonging to the Green Party, expressed a similar view.
“I’ve spent the last two weeks campaigning all over the country and I’ve seen that most voters have digested the fact that Sweden is applying for NATO membership. So I don’t see this at all. aspect influencing the election,” she told DW.
“I found most of them were concerned about climate change, crime and how a strict immigration policy would incite racism in the country. These are also issues that affect the rest of the country. EU and countries around the world.”
“What’s at stake right now is how Sweden will elect the right political party to form a government that will tackle these issues and also help the rest of the world to do so. It’s important for the future of young people around the world,” she said.
Edited by: Sonia Phalnikar