Far-Right Defections Seen Making Sweden's Nationalists Palatable

(Bloomberg) -- The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats is being hit by a wave of defections from its more extreme members, opening up a way in from the cold for a party long shunned by the establishment because of its neo-Nazi roots.

SD is poised to become a kingmaker in September’s election, potentially winning close to 20 percent amid a wave of dissatisfaction against immigration after Sweden became a haven for refugees during the 2015 migrant crisis.

The party has been working to shed its most extreme members and soften its language since winning 13 percent in 2014. A new party, Alternative for Sweden, has now been formed by some of those who were excluded, which could further polish its image, according to Ann-Catherine Jungar, an associate professor at Sodertorn University, who specializes on the far-right in the Nordic countries.

“These exclusions have been part of the Sweden Democrats’ ambition to break its isolation and become a party that other parties can accept collaborating with,” she said.

Alternative for Sweden (AFS) on Monday announced that it has recruited former SD party leader Mikael Jansson. He’s the third SD member of parliament to defect to AFS, which stands for a more radical form of nationalism and social conservatism.

In statement released on Monday, SD said that Jansson’s defection came after he wasn’t given a spot on the parliamentary ticket for the September election.

“We have become a real people’s movement,” Mattias Karlsson, SD’s parliamentary leader, said in a statement. “That may mean that some of the people who have been around for a long time have a hard time reconciling themselves with how we look today.”

Jansson said at a press conference his main reason for leaving was that the party had become more pro-NATO, a notion that was immediately rejected by SD.

Polling shows limited support for the new party and few signs it will siphon off voters from SD. A Demoskop survey shows that while backing for SD has risen, support for ‘other parties’ (where AFS is included) has remained just above 1 percent.

“It hasn’t affected support for SD negatively, which is probably where they would be taking their voters from,” said Demoskop’s CEO Anders Lindholm.

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