In Sweden, center-left coalition holds slender lead as far-right party advances

The Sweden Democrats, which won 63 seats in the recent polls ran a campaign blaming immigrants for gang violence in the country

September 16, 2018 by Muhammed Shabeer
Both the center-left and center-right wing alliances failed to win the necessary 175 seats to form a government, Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

Progressive and secular political sections across Europe were in for a shock as Sweden fell in line with the far-right surge that has been marked by ultra nationalism and racism. In the general elections held on September 9, which saw debates on the law & order problem and immigration, Sweden Democrats, a far-right-wing nationalist party increased its vote share (by close to 5%) and seats (by 13 seats to 62) in the Swedish parliament, Riksdag. Both the ruling center left-wing alliance (40.6% of votes) led by the Social Democrats and the main opposition led by the center-right Moderate Party (40.3%) failed to achieve a simple majority. Political uncertainty prevails in the country as no camp has reached any post-poll alliance to cross the 175 threshold in the 349-member parliament to form the government.

The incumbent Prime Minister, Social Democrat Stefan Lofven, who led the center-left Red – Green Alliance (144 seats), including his Social Democratic party (101 seats), Green Party (15 seats) and the Left Party (28), invited parties from the opposition alliance – the Centre Party (31 seats) and the Liberals (20 seats) – to form an alliance.  The center-right coalition, called The Alliance, comprising the Moderate Party (70 seats), the Liberals, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats (22 seats) together has only 143 seats in Parliament, 32 short of a simple majority. However, the opposition parties rejected the Prime Minister’s plea for support, asked him to step aside and requested the parties in the ruling coalition to support The Alliance to form the government.

Meanwhile, the Sweden Democrats expressed their willingness to support The Alliance if they agree to concessions. Initially, both fronts declared that they wouldn’t cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, leading to a deadlock. In 2014, Lofven had formed a minority cabinet, supported exclusively by the Social Democrats and Green Party. The government had failed to pass the budget as the Sweden Democrats had voted along with the opposition led by the Moderates against the budget, forcing Prime Minister Lofven to call for extraordinary elections. This was later rendered unnecessary as the government reached an agreement with the opposition parties like the Liberals, Centrists and the Christian Democrats and got their support.

In 2018, the general election saw a huge debate on  widespread gang violence, arson and problems of law & order. The Sweden Democrats (SD) went overboard proclaiming  immigration as the root cause of gang violence, terrorism and trafficking in the country. They wanted Sweden to stop asylum seekers and instead proposed that Sweden contribute to an international refugee fund, which would allow more refugees to go back to their homelands. In their manifesto, they proposed a immigration policy which would involve restricting asylum to only people from neighboring countries. They wanted the regulation of labor immigration to ‘protect’ the Swedish labor market. They also proposed prohibiting Swedish employers from using foreign labor to circumvent domestic working conditions. Other proposals put forward by them included tightening the endowment of citizenship through imposition of requirements, including mastering of the Swedish language, and revoking all the citizenships granted on allegedly incorrect basis. They also promised to increase the funding for the security forces to ‘fight’ illegal immigrants residing in the country.

Observers said that it was the people’s disenchantment with the traditional governance models of the moderate leftists and right-wing parties based on agreements and compromises that had resulted in the rise of the ultra-right in the country. While the Left Party too made some advances, it was the ultra-right that was being closely watched by observers, many of whom had predicted it would win up to 25% of the vote. This complements a continent-wide phenomenon which is marked by Islamophobia, anti-immigration sentiment and racism. This right-wing surge has been attributed to the economic crisis in the region marked by high levels of unemployment and declining state support. The large scale exodus of refugees from conflicts, especially in the north African region, has not been received well by Europeans. The quota system of refugee intake for countries prescribed by the EU was opposed by right-wing political parties and neo-Nazi groups all across the Europe.

In Germany, which agreed to quota-based immigrant intake and which houses a large number of immigrants, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained significant support in the 2017 elections. In 2014, an anti-Muslim group called PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) was formed in Germany and it has been active in anti-immigration rallies and racist attacks. The immigration policy of the Five Star Movement in Italy (M5S) (part of the new coalition government) is also perceptibly to the right. They have even demanded suspension of the Schengen Treaty (which created the Schengen area in Europe where internal border checks are largely not required) and revision of the Dublin Regulations (European Union law regarding asylum seekers and member states). The Freedom Party in Austria is another flag-bearer of ultra-nationalism and anti-immigrant policies in the region. Despite her defeat to Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen was successful in generating a lot of publicity for her  ultra-right anti-immigrant National Front (FN) in French politics. In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban is unleashing an unparalleled hate campaign against immigrants and Muslims. Andrej Babis, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, is another champion of anti-immigration policies in the region. The Law and Justice Party in Poland, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), the Finns Party, the Danish People’s Party and the Freedom Party of Netherlands are other major actors on the board that are riding this wave of ultra-nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment in Europe. With the latest election in Sweden, the Sweden Democrats have also marked a key moment in the strengthening of this wave in Sweden