Sweden’s immigration policies seem to be dominating this year’s elections set for Sunday, when voters in the Scandinavian nation will choose a new parliament, which could result in a new prime minister and new government.
The ruling Social Democrats are apparently desperately trying to appeal to voters who see immigrants as the root cause of their problems.
At the same time, the far-right Sweden Democrats party – known for its neo-Nazi ties – is set to become the second-largest party in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag.
The Sweden Democrats managed to shift the entire political spectrum to the right, “so that the larger center-left and center-right parties have adopted their rhetoric on immigration and some of their policies,” said David Crouch, a leading British journalist who currently lives and works in Sweden.
There are fears among some observers in the country that the focus on immigrants in this year’s election could result in a coalition between the populist Sweden Democrats and the traditional right-wing Moderates party.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has pledged tougher measures for gang-related offenses and longer prison sentences, while connecting these issues solely to immigrants.
This led her to announce last week that the government wants the “most powerful expansion of the police authority ever,” and revealed plans to expand the police force to 50,000 by 2032.
She went even further when, during campaigning, she stated that she doesn’t want Somalitowns, Chinatowns, or Little Italies in the country – meaning minority ghettos.
This, she said, was in a bid to fight segregation in the country.
Adopting far right’s stance
According to Crouch, some leading Swedish Social Democrats are sympathetic to the approach of the Danish Social Democrats, who won elections in 2019 by adopting the far right’s stance on immigration, and the far left’s stance on welfare.
However, Andersson and the Swedish Social Democrats face a very different situation as there are several major obstacles that would make this approach “almost impossible, not least their reliance on the support of the liberal Center Party to have any chance of governing after the elections,” said Crouch.
Ulf Bjereld, a well-known critic of the Danish approach and a leading political scientist and a journalist, argues that adopting far-right policies would not make much of a difference anyway as “every time the Social Democrats get closer to the Sweden Democrats, the Sweden Democrats just take a step even further to the right.”
Before the 2018 elections, the Social Democrats and traditional right-wing Moderates were already seen adopting the far-right Sweden Democrats’ strategy on the issues of immigration, crime, and punishment.
Bjereld said this approach backfired, as it enabled the populist party to grow and to gain popularity, especially among Moderates voters.
Crouch added that far-right voters’ support has risen sharply in the last decade, when Sweden started to accept “large numbers of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.”
“The Sweden Democrats blame high immigration for a recent rise in violent gang crime in Swedish cities, but they are also fundamentally hostile to immigrants, particularly Muslims,” he said.
According to Bjereld, who is also a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, adopting the Danish approach could mobilize internal opposition inside the Social Democratic Party, “which would result in the party splitting.”
He added that the Liberal Party would never accept Sweden following in the footsteps of Denmark.
For these two reasons, the Swedish Social Democratic Party “will not go as far as the Danes have done when it comes to the questions of immigration,” he predicted.
Swedish politics volatile and unpredictable
The election so far has proven to be about who will form a government, and with whom, after the polls close.
Swedish politics are categorized by fragmentation of the vote among eight main parties and a polarization towards four left-wing and four right-wing parties.
Crouch, who also wrote a book called Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works And What We Can Learn From It, argues that it is very difficult for center-left and center-right parties to form governing coalitions.
The governing center-left “is relying on support from both liberals and former Communists to achieve the minimum 50% + 1 of seats in parliament,” he said.
The center-right opposition has recently changed course “radically and formed a loose electoral bloc with the far-right, anti-Muslim Sweden Democrats,” whose support they need if they are to win a majority in parliament.
“This makes Swedish politics at the moment very volatile and unpredictable,” he added.
Opinion polls say it will be a very close race between the left and right.
Tough negotiations ahead
If the four parties on the left get a majority of the seats, to stay in power, Andersson would need to get everyone to agree on major issues.
Anders Sannerstedt, a leading election expert who currently works at Lund University in southern Sweden, warns that there will be tough negotiations because the centrist parties and leftist parties “disagree on a lot of issues.”
Giving some examples, Crouch said that, for instance, the Social Democrats need to balance the insistence of the liberal Center Party “to not raise taxes” alongside the demands of the Left Party “for higher welfare spending.”
According to him, this may prove tricky as the Center Party, for example, “is very hostile towards the Left Party,” while the Left Party has enjoyed considerable success with its campaign for higher pensions.
Sannerstedt believes that negotiations could be a challenge for Andersson.
“It’s a tough task, but I think she could handle it if they win the election,” he added.
Future not bright
In recent years Sweden already saw a difficult 134 days of negotiations in 2018 and 2019 when a minority government was formed by the Social Democrats and the Green Party.
Two crises then followed last year after then-Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a no-confidence vote and was forced to resign.
According to Sannerstedt the future is not so bright for the eight main political parties, as there will be a “bit of a bumpy road.”
He predicts that the next few years will be problematic, as the disagreement within the government on major issues may result in efforts “to bring the government down,” regardless of whether it is a Social Democrats- or Moderates-led government
“So, we will see a tough time in the next few years. Also, I think, pretty much the way we have seen in the last four years,” he added.
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