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Analysis: Has support for the Sweden Democrats peaked?

Sweden's far-right had hoped to overtake the "establishment" in weekend elections and become the country's biggest party, but, having fallen well short of that goal, some are now wondering whether support for the Sweden Democrats has peaked.

Analysis: Has support for the Sweden Democrats peaked?
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson at the party's election night event. Photo: Lars Pehrson / SvD / TT

The anti-immigration party came in third, behind Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrats and the opposition conservative Moderates, with 17.6 percent of votes, up 4.7 points from the 2014 elections.

But that rise is smaller than the 7.2-point increase the party saw between 2010 and 2014, and far below the expectations of party leader Jimmie Åkesson, who, several hours before polling stations closed, said he was confident of winning “20 to 30 percent”. It was also well below several opinion polls prior to the election, with  the most favourable ones suggesting support around 26 percent.

So was the election result a setback for the party?

“Not at all,” said Mattias Karlsson, head of the party's parliamentary  group and its main ideologue. “All parties want to be as big as possible but we are the big winners of the election,” he told AFP.

After having largely underestimated the Sweden Democrats in previous elections, polling institutes overcompensated this time and overestimated them, he said.

READ ALSO: What next for Sweden after election nailbiter?

'Victory or death': Top Sweden Democrat criticized for Facebook election comments

Mattias Karlsson speaking at the Sweden Democrats' election night event. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Yet the fact remains that they did not see the breakthrough they hoped for, and the seven other parties in parliament continue to ostracize the far-right and exclude it from discussions to form a new government.

“Their core voters are white men from the working class, but they've broadened their electoral base, with more women, more immigrants and more people in big cities,” says Anna-Lena Lodenius, an investigative journalist specializing in far-right movements.

“They may still be able to climb by three or four points” and match the levels enjoyed by the far-right in other European countries such as Switzerland or Austria, she says.

The Sweden Democrats are the biggest party among men, garnering 25 percent of all male voters. But they attract “only” 25 percent of working class voters and 15 percent of women voters. They also attract 15 percent of first-time and white collar voters.

“We think we can still grow in some areas, like women, union members, voters of foreign background,” said Karlsson, who on Monday wrote in a Facebook post that there were only two options ahead: “victory or death.”

While immigration and integration of immigrants played a big part in the election campaign, the far-right “ran up against a strong ideological counter-offensive” from the Greens and the ex-communist Left, as well as the Centre Party, a member of the centre-right Alliance, notes Linköping University professor Anders Neergaard.

And the right-wing parties, the Moderates and Christian Democrats, also attracted some far-right supporters by adopting some of the Sweden Democrats' ideology — at times using rhetoric verging on Islamophobic.

READ ALSO: Will Swedish values survive the next two weeks?

Risk of radicalization

Generally, the far-right's geographical and sociological base is not spreading dramatically.

“They're growing everywhere, but they're strong where they already were strong and weak where they are generally weak,” such as the three big cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, notes Lund University political science professor Anders Sannerstedt.

Two factors will likely influence the far-right going forward, experts suggest. Firstly, the party's position in parliament's balance of power the next  four years; and secondly, whether Sweden will succeed in integrating the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers it has taken in.

“If they don't get the influence they want, there is a clear risk that they will radicalise … Then they'll either grow or their voters will tire of them,” Lodenius predicts.

Should the left- and right-wing reach a cross-bloc cooperation to shut out the Sweden Democrats — an idea currently being tossed around — “they will be seen as the only opposition party,” Sannerstedt adds.

And if efforts to integrate immigrants were to yield better results, “immigration will be perceived as less problematic.” But, he says, “there's nothing to indicate that that will be the case.”

The unemployment rate among foreign-born people is four times that of those born in Sweden. Meanwhile, the Sweden Democrats' success in municipal elections held the same day has left them short-handed. In their strongholds in the south, they won more mandates in local elections than they have candidates to fill seats.

“People are subjected to a lot of threats, there's a strong social exclusion, in workplaces and unions. You lose friends or jobs, and that makes it hard for us to recruit people,” says Karlsson. Despite its electoral success, “the Sweden Democrats remain a pretty hated party,” Sannerstedt notes.

By Gaël Branchereau

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains how Sweden's parliamentary committees work – and the role the Sweden Democrats will play in them.

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

Hej,

The speaker of parliament has given Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderates and the likely next prime minister of Sweden, October 12th as a deadline to conclude his government negotiations.

If Kristersson comes up with a viable proposal for a ruling coalition, the speaker will put that proposal to parliament within four days. Chances are Sweden will have its new right-wing government by mid-October.

What will that government look like? Most likely, it will consist of at least the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. Rumours have it Kristersson is hoping to bring the Liberals into the governmental fold, and it is unlikely that the far-right Sweden Democrats will be part of the government.

But anyone who thinks the latter means they will be left on the sidelines is mistaken. They will have demanded significant concessions in order to support Kristersson’s government (and especially to make way for the Liberals) from parliament, and judging from recent news, they got them.

In a joint press release last week, the right wing – the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats – said they had reached a deal on how to share responsibility for their parliamentary committees.

There are 15 committees in the Swedish parliament, seats on which are held by members of parliament, with larger parties getting more seats as well as more high-ranking roles such as chair and deputy chair.

The right wing is after this election entitled to 16 chair and deputy chair roles, and the Sweden Democrats will get half of those, the parties agreed. The key thing that many political pundits were keeping an eye on was which committees, as that tells us a lot about how far they got in their negotiations with the other right-wing parties. The answer: far.

The Sweden Democrats will get to chair the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour Market, and Industry and Trade Committees – all heavyweight committees. 

Their most high-profile appointment is Richard Jomshof, one of the most senior Sweden Democrats who in the run-up to the election gave an anti-Islam speech (not the first time). He will chair the Justice Committee.

The Moderates will chair the Finance and Social Insurance Committees (plus the EU Committee), the Christian Democrats will chair the Health and Welfare Committee, and the Liberals will chair the Education Committee.

On the other side, the left-wing parties will get to chair the Defence, Taxation, Constitution, Civil Affairs, Transport and Communications, Environment and Agriculture, and Cultural Affairs Committees.

So what exactly do the parliamentary committees do, and how much influence will the Sweden Democrats now have over legislation?

The votes of every member of the committees count equally (there are at least 15 members on every committee, representing the various parties from left to right), and the chair gets the final vote if there’s a tie. He or she also has influence over the committee’s agenda and over how meetings are directed, with the position also bringing prestige.

All government bills and proposals by members of parliament first go through one of the committees before they can be put to the main chamber for a vote. The committee adopts a position on the proposal and although the final decision rests with the 349 members of the main chamber, they usually vote for the committee’s position since the make-up of their members represent the parties in parliament.

Although chair positions give them a procedural advantage, the Sweden Democrats won’t have unlimited power over their committees, since as I said, the other parties have seats too and their votes count equally.

The main benefit for the Sweden Democrats is rather the soft power it gives them. The chair is the face of the parliamentary committee, and these senior roles will force the other parties to take them seriously.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that they’ll have enough seats on each committee that they will have a key kingmaker role where they can side either with the government or the opposition – giving them fairly significant negotiating power when it comes to future legislation.

In other news, the Swedish parliament last week re-elected the popular Andreas Norlén as speaker, it’s been taking much longer than usual to get a work permit (here’s why) and foreigners are calling for the Migration Agency to issue special visas to allow those affected by renewal delays to leave Sweden and return, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has stopped leaking gas, and households in Sweden are starting to feel the economic squeeze.

In the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, host Paul O’Mahony is joined by Handelsbanken chief economist Johan Löf, as well as The Local’s Becky Waterton, Richard Orange and James Savage.

Many thanks to everyone who’s got in touch lately with your thoughts and feedback about Sweden Elects. I’m happy it’s useful to you. If you have any questions about Swedish politics, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Emma

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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