Sweden is facing political deadlock after a general election on Sunday failed to deliver a clear majority for either the center-left or center-right coalitions.
Ahead of the election, all eyes were on the Sweden Democrats, a far-right party which has surged in popularity, whose electoral message focused on capturing Swedish resentment over rising crime and immigration. While the Sweden Democrats didn’t do quite as well as some had feared they would, they managed to capture 18 percent of the vote, or 62 parliamentary seats, up from 13 percent in the previous election.
“We have strengthened our role as kingmakers,” Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson announced after the results had come in. “We are going to gain real influence over Swedish politics.”
Sweden, SVT exit poll:
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) September 9, 2018
Whether or not the main political parties of Sweden choose to work with Sweden Democrats remains to be seen. The main left-wing bloc of incumbent prime minister Stefan Löfven, currently holds 144 seats — one more than the center-right Alliance bloc. Löfven’s bloc has steadfastly refused to work with the Sweden Democrats, but with his Social Democrats gaining their lowest electoral return in a century, it is unlikely he has the political capital to shut out a insurgent political party which had captured the vote of one in six Swedes.
“This is a new situation for Sweden,” political scientist Soren Holmberg told The New York Times. “What is pretty clear is that there won’t be a majority on either side, so it means we have to have a lot of negotiation between the blocs.”
In many ways the situation echoes Germany’s elections last September, when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained 94 seats in the German Bundestag, making them the country’s third-biggest political party. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union CDU achieved the most votes of any party but it wasn’t enough to govern by her own, and forced her into a coalition. This in turn, made her vulnerable to right-wing demands, like agreeing in July to tighten the border with Austria and build border camps for asylum seekers fleeing war.
A similar set of policies might now be enacted by Stockholm. While the Sweden Democrats did not achieve the political earthquake they would’ve hoped for, their success shows the popularity of their platform — one which wants to speed up deportations, tighten the borders, withdraw from the European Union and is, at very best, deeply suspicious of Islam.
A string of high-profile crimes have only heightened far-right anxiety. For example in August, over 100 cars were set on fire by youths in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, in what was believed to be a coordinated effort. A large number of immigrants reside in Gothenburg, leading some to blame the minority population for the incidents.