Sweden’s Right-Wing Expected to Make Significant Gains
A surge in gang violence has stirred anti-immigration sentiment before an election in Sweden, putting a far-right party on course for big gains in one of Europe's most liberal countries. Barring a major upset, Sweden’s far-right is on course for a record result in the upcoming September 9th legislative elections, capitalizing on the mood of voters who feel they are being left behind in favor of hundreds of thousands of newly arrived asylum seekers. Dozens of people have been killed in the past two years in attacks in the capital Stockholm and other substantial cities by gangs that are mostly from run-down suburbs dominated by immigrants. In June 2018, three men were shot dead and three were wounded outside an internet cafe in the city of Malmo. A fourth man was shot dead days later and another man survived because he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Five years ago, Sweden saw itself as a "humanitarian superpower" that generously welcomed migrants, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa. But as in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has been cracking under pressure from her coalition partners to tighten immigration curbs, Sweden's government now faces a backlash over the scale of immigration. With public calls growing for tougher policies on crime and immigration, support has risen for the Sweden Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi roots that wishes to freeze immigration and to hold a referendum on Sweden's membership of the European Union. About 400,000 people have sought asylum in the wealthy Scandinavian country of 10 million since 2012, and it took in 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone. Some voters fear schools, hospitals and welfare services cannot cope, and that Sweden's reputation for tolerance and social equality is threatened.
The Sweden Democrats still trail the Social Democratic Party but have overtaken the main opposition Moderates in many polls. All mainstream parties have ruled out working with them. However, a strong election showing could force the next government to take their views into consideration when shaping policy. The Swedish Democrats policies include a total freeze on asylum seekers and accepting refugees only from Sweden's neighbors in the future. They also want tougher penalties for crime and more powers for police and say tax cuts and higher spending on welfare could be funded by cutting the immigration budget. Opinion polls put the Sweden Democrats at about 20 percent support, up from the 13 percent of votes they secured in the 2014 election and the 5.7 percent which saw them enter parliament for the first time in 2010.
Many Swedes were horrified in early 2017 when U.S. President Donald Trump linked immigration to rising crime in Sweden, but an increasing number now agree with him. The Sweden Democrats have succeeded in linking the two in the minds of many voters. Sweden has one of the highest levels of lethal gun violence in Europe according to data from the World Health Organization. But while the number of foreign-born citizens has risen for decades, murder rates are roughly flat. The government denies it has lost control but Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has not ruled out sending the military into problem areas.
The government has also proposed tougher punishments for gun crimes and sexual assaults, wants to stop financial support for undocumented foreigners, put more of those whose identity is unclear in holding centers and accelerate repatriation of failed asylum seekers. The Moderates have also toughened their stance on crime and immigration, promising a crackdown on welfare for asylum seekers and a ban on begging. Both main parties say Sweden will not return to liberal asylum rules suspended in 2015. "Sweden is going down a more right-wing path," said Nick Aylott, a political scientist at Sodertorn University said. "It is almost impossible to avoid according some sort of influence to a party with around 20 percent of the vote."
Founded in 1988 and headed since 2005 by Jimmie Akesson, SD appeals to young voters and those disillusioned by social democracy, as well as those in declining rural areas where industries, schools, and maternity wards are shutting down. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s Social Democrats are expected to remain the country’s biggest party, but polls suggest they are headed for their worst election result since proportional representation was introduced in 1911. They are seen winning around 25 percent of votes, down from 31 percent four years ago. While Sweden’s economic indicators all look rosy – unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade, growth is forecast at around three percent this year – income inequality is growing faster than in any other OECD country, a thorn in the side of a nation that has long prided itself on its egalitarian values. “These new social gaps have to be addressed to keep Sweden cohesive. If we do that, then there’s no room for extremism,” Goran Persson, who served as Social Democratic prime minister from 1996 to 2006, said on Friday.
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