Electoral gains predicted for far-right Sweden Democrats

Jimmie Akesson2From his party’s office in the basement of a Stockholm parking garage, Jimmie Akesson is running for Parliament, preaching sharp cuts in immigration and calling Islam the greatest threat to Swedish society.

That message until now has gained little traction in Sweden, but polls are predicting gains for Akesson’s far-right Sweden Democrats that could give them a king-maker role in national elections this year if neither mainstream bloc wins an outright majority. It’s an unnerving scenario for Swedes and their self-image of being more tolerant of outsiders than the rest of Europe.

Opinion polls show the Sweden Democrats could get 4 to 6 percent of votes in the September election, enough to win 15-20 seats in the 349-member Riksdag and potentially throw Swedish politics into disarray. But by law a party needs at least 4 percent to get into the legislature, and the Sweden Democrats could well fall short. Also, paradoxically, their poll numbers are up at a time when another survey show the number of Swedes worried about excessive immigration is declining.

All the same, the mainstream parties which hitherto simply ignored the far right are being forced to say where they stand. The center-left says it won’t govern with the Sweden Democrats under any circumstances. The incumbent center-right hasn’t put it quite that strongly, but sounds very reluctant to line up with the far right.

Akesson, the clerkish 31-year-old leading the Sweden Democrat charge, insists voters are more disenchanted with liberal immigration laws than they admit out loud. “In Sweden, if you voice criticism against the immigration policy, you are viewed as a racist or xenophobe,” Akesson said.

Associated Press, 5 June 2010