The success of the ‘Sweden First’ party energizes the global right

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Swedish Democrats party was founded by neo-Nazis and skinheads in the 1980s. Today, the rebranded and reformed nationalist party is on the brink of unprecedented influence.

After a weekend election held amid fears of rising crime, the anti-immigration party is now the second most popular party in the Scandinavian country.

Development is the latest global example of a political force once widely seen as socially unacceptable entering the political mainstream.

Vowing to put ‘Sweden first’ and ‘make Sweden good’, party leader Jimmie Akesson’s slogans echo those that have resonated with supporters of ex-President Donald Trump in the United States. United.

Its rise has energized right-wing forces in Europe as they eye further gains against the left.

“Let this be an omen and a model for the rest of Europe,” said a tweet from the European Conservatives and Reformists party, whose president is Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party.

In 10 days, Italians will elect a new parliament in a poll that, if opinion polls prove accurate, could see Meloni triumph as part of a centre-right electoral alliance and possibly even become the first Italian minister.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s longtime ally, also hailed the push by Swedish Democrats on his “War Room” podcast, calling the shift to the right in traditionally progressive Sweden a “political earthquake”. He praised the Swedish Democrats because “they want their borders, they want their sovereignty.

Bannon described Sweden as a destroyed society – a right-wing trope that exaggerates the scale of Sweden’s challenges.

Sweden is for the most part a prosperous and thriving member of the European Union, although many have been rocked by shootings and gang-related violence. Some, but not all, of the rise in violence has taken place in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods.

The populist party’s strong showing was confirmed on Wednesday night, three days after a vote was so close that the final result had to wait for the tally of mail-in votes and other pending votes.

With the tally clarified, the bloc of right-wing parties has 176 seats while Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s centre-left bloc has 173. On Thursday, Andersson tendered his resignation to the Speaker of Parliament.

Despite the rise of Sweden’s Democrats – they won 20.5% of the vote, making them the largest centre-right party – the stigma that they cannot entirely shake down means they will not be the first party to be asked to form the government. Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderates party, another member of the centre-right bloc, is expected to be the first to have the chance to try to form a government coalition.

Many Swedes fear that Sweden’s history and Democrats’ tough stance on immigration threatens the democratic identity of a nation that is home to Nobel Prize winners and where generations of refugees have been welcomed and thrived.

Emily Jeremias, a 45-year-old musician, said she was worried but not surprised that “some kind of right-wing extremist party…is gaining so much power”.

“We see a kind of right-wing movement all over Europe, so it’s no surprise that it’s happening here too,” she said.

During her campaign, the outgoing Prime Minister portrayed Sweden’s Democrats as a possible threat to the country’s pluralism and tolerance.

And as Andersson conceded defeat, she said she had personally been the target of a “hate campaign” and alleged the party was using “organized trolls” to target young activists.

She and others on the left have also accused the moderates of being complicit in normalizing Sweden’s Democrats by being willing to work with them.

The populist party’s more palatable image is the result of years of effort by Akesson, its 43-year-old leader. He says the party’s transformation since its inception is sincere and rejects fascism and Nazism.

Under his leadership, the party has long since swapped its torch symbol for a flower, aiming to highlight its reform.

Akesson’s interest in politics began as a teenager when Sweden joined the EU in 1995. He opposed it then, but in another twist the party now supports today joining the bloc of 27 members. He also supports NATO membership, which Sweden applied for this year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Akesson’s personal image is that of a smooth and neat person. He plays keyboards in a soft rock band and, in his speeches, avoids inflammatory language, instead using humor and irony with his opponents.

As part of its awareness of the past, the party recently published a study on the roots of the Swedish Democrats. The Swedish newspaper Expressen revealed that the author was a party member. Nevertheless, the investigation confirmed that several of the party’s founders in the 1980s had ties to fascist and neo-Nazi movements.

The party says immigration to Sweden in the past was generally acceptable, but has become too much in recent years. In 2015 alone, the country of 10 million people welcomed a record 163,000 refugees – the highest per capita rate of any European country.

Party members say they are taking in refugees from Ukraine, but Sweden shouldn’t have to accept more from the Middle East or Africa.

The party pledges to limit the approval of asylum to the strict minimum and to deport any migrant or refugee who commits crimes. In his campaign platform, he alleged that there are cases of asylum seekers dishonestly claiming to be persecuted for being gay or rejecting Islam, suggesting this would limit such claims.

Sweden Democrats say Sweden has become “a magnet for migrants from all over the world” and their goal is to “give Sweden back to what it once was”.

While it’s unclear whether Sweden’s Democrats will join the eventual government – ​​not all center-right parties in the bloc are ready to accept that – it’s clear that any right-wing government would need their support to muster a majority in Parliament to pass laws. The star is on a roll for Akesson and his party.

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Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark.

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