The success of the Sweden Democrats marks a sea change
The results are in. With 176 seats the Right-wing coalition won out against the incumbent Social-democratic government, whose Left-wing conglomerate received 173 seats. The Moderate party became the third largest party, and will form the government around it, even though they actually lost voters since the last election.
The real success story of this election was the Sweden Democrats, the national populist party that secured 20.6% of the vote, and an 11 seat gain from 2018. But the difference this year was that the traditional centre-Right parties — the Moderate party together with the Christian Democrats – agreed to form an alliance with SD, even if they maintain that SD will be kept out of the government.
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It is notable how, after being shunned for the past four elections, the cordon sanitaire around the Sweden Democrats has finally been lifted. Once decried as racist and xenophobic for its hardline nationalist and anti-immigration platform, SD’s popularity has become too big to ignore (especially since almost all the other major parties have adopted similar stances on migration).
But while Sweden’s Right-wing parties are now willing to form an alliance with SD, the issue on which Jimmie Åkesson’s party came to prominence is still considered too taboo to discuss. First, rival parties tried to frame this as the ‘energy election’ because of the soaring electricity prices and record high gas prices. The Left-wing government blamed Putin, which is partly right, since he restricted gas exports to Europe. The Right-bloc agreed, but pointed to the fact that four nuclear reactors had been closed prematurely for political decisions. With these still in effect, the price shock would’ve been much reduced. But did this issue really shift the vote? I don’t think so.
Then the Left tried to talk about education, but it was pretty clear what this issue was a proxy for. When the share of newly arrived immigrants or pupils from the near-ghettos that now exist (‘deprived areas’, as they are euphemistically referred to in Sweden) rises above a certain point, Swedish parents simply take their kids out of that school. White flight, which also includes earlier waves of immigrants, is happening all over society. And who can blame them?
The issue of ‘law and order’ is another even less disguised euphemism for the same issue of immigration. Sweden is in the midst of a violent crime wave, most of which has been fuelled by immigrants. To date, there have been 47 fatal shootings — equal to last year’s record — and just a few weeks before this election, a 5-year-old and her mother were shot at a playground.
It’s not the first time that children have been collateral damage in criminal shoot-outs, and law enforcement is struggling to keep up. For decades, politicians have tried to sweep the issues surrounding immigration under the rug, but it is clear that it has become Sweden’s most important fault-line. Today it cuts into almost every other issue. Only the Sweden Democrats have shown a willingness to talk about it in the open — and for some time. That is why they are now Sweden’s second largest party.
Another overlooked feature of this election is that a new party has made a landslide in deprived areas. The party is called Nyans, which means nuance, even though the party is anything but. They portray Sweden as a Islamophobic, systemically racist society, including spreading a conspiracy theory that Swedish authorities are taking Muslim children into custody. This is a darker shade of the identity politics of the Left that’s been promulgated for a long time.
Zoom out, and Sweden today looks more like the U.S, where the Democrats receive most of the minority votes, and a majority of white Americans vote for the Republicans. This is a dangerous cleavage for Sweden to find itself in. The immigrant population is growing at a rapid pace, and last year there were two million foreign-born residents in Sweden, with around a third of the population having at least one foreign-born parent. Indeed, if only votes from those with non-European ancestry were counted in this election, then the Left-wing alliance would have won 259 of the 349 mandates in parliament.
But it is the Left-leaning Social Democrats who now face an uphill challenge. On the one hand it has to repair its leakage of votes to the Sweden Democrats by being tough on crime and immigration. But the party also has to keep its new, growing voter base which is non-European. This will be an almost impossible circle to square.
The success of the Sweden Democrats has been greeted by the usual rhetoric of a ‘threat to democracy’. But the opposite is true. Never has a government been more representative of the people when it comes to their views on law and order and immigration. It might be too late for a fresh start for Sweden, but there will be change.