News & Politics

Sweden's Nationalists Fall Short of Expectations, But Still Make Big Gains

(AP Photo/TT News Agency, Pontus Lundahl, File)

The Sweden Democrats, usually described in the European press as “far right,” will apparently fall a little short of  expectations in the parliamentary election held today. According to a Reuters report, with 80% of the vote counted, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats picked up about 18% of the vote, short of the 20% they expected.

It hardly matters. The traditional left and right parties failed to gain a majority, meaning the Sweden Democrats will be the kingmakers.

With neither main political bloc able to command a majority, the Sweden Democrats, who want the country to leave the European Union and put a freeze on immigration, could play a decisive role in negotiations over forming a government that look set to be complex and drawn-out.

Akesson challenged Ulf Kristersson, the center-right Alliance’s candidate for the premiership, to choose between seeking support from the Sweden Democrats and the incumbent Social Democrat prime minister, Stefan Lofven.

Both traditional parties have sworn not to cooperate or deal with the Sweden Democrats. But that will almost certainly have to change. Krristersson is already in trouble with right-wing voters who couldn’t stomach voting for Sweden Democrats but embrace all or part of their agenda. It’s also very unlikely that Kristersson will join hands with Lofven, given the intensity of the campaign.

The record levels of asylum seeks in 2015 magnified worries about a welfare system that many voters already believe is in crisis, even though refugee numbers have fallen sharply since then.

Lengthening queues for critical operations, shortages of doctors and teachers and the failures of police to deal with inner-city gang violence have shaken faith in the “Swedish model”, built on a promise of comprehensive welfare and social inclusion.

Akesson had labeled the vote a choice between immigration and welfare in a campaign that was unusually antagonistic.

The elites in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe will play parliamentary tricks and electoral games, but they really don’t get it. The nationalist and eurosceptic parties are not tricking anyone. They haven’t hypnotized people. They aren’t holding a gun to the head of anyone to vote for them. They are gaining support because they are speaking simply and directly about the concerns of ordinary Europeans.

How simple is that?

Of course, to admit that their policies are in bad odor with voters would be to admit their own titanic failures. And since they are only offering more of the same, voters have begun to reject the traditional parties to embrace politicians who speak to their needs and concerns.

This is not rocket science. It’s political science 101: give the people what they want.

No doubt the traditional left and right in Sweden will maneuver desperately to avoid dealing with Sweden Democrats, but the nationalists have now tasted power and will not be denied.

Swedish politics is about to be turned upside down.