Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson, Reuters, December 12, 2014
Sweden’s mainstream parties head into March’s snap election unloved by voters and short on seasoned leadership, raising the risk the far-right will increase its support and be able to force a shift in generous immigration policies.
Center-left Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s need to call a new election two months into office underlines his weakness. His likely rival for the top political post–Moderate party economic spokeswoman Anna Kinberg Batra–will not even head her own party until January.
The center-right and center-left lack fresh ideas–tax cuts are over but will not be reversed–and voters gave a thumbs down to both blocs in September’s vote, handing the Sweden Democrats the balance of power.
After bringing down Lofven’s government, the Sweden Democrats could now cement their rise from right-wing fringe to the center-stage of Swedish politics.
“No one knows how big the Sweden Democrats could be,” said Anders Sannerstedt, political scientist at Lund University, pointing to research in 2013 that showed 44 percent of Swedes wanted to see less immigration. “They got 12.9 percent in September’s election, so their voter pool isn’t empty yet.”
The party has threatened to bring down any government that fails to rein in immigration and wants to cut the number of asylum seekers reaching Sweden–the world’s top per capita recipient–by 90 percent. All major parties have refused to cooperate with them.
But a strong showing by the Sweden Democrats in March will make them harder to ignore. A YouGov poll in December put support for the Sweden Democrats rising to 17.7 percent.
“The mainstream parties . . . either have to find a way to cooperate across the political divide, or change their views on the Sweden Democrats,” Magnus Hagevi, political scientist at Linnaeus University, said.
Generous immigration has been a cornerstone of Swedish politics for decades and research from Gothenburg University shows Swedes are becoming more, not less, tolerant, though the number saying they want lower immigration is still above 40 percent.
However, record number of asylum seekers–up to 105,000 in 2015 says the Migration Board–have revealed fault lines in the country of 9.5 million people.