Turmoil Holds No Fear for Swedish Nationalists Gaining Clout

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(Bloomberg) -- Sweden’s nationalists are going to exact their price from whoever wants to rule following September’s general election.

Emerging from the fringes just a decade ago, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are poised to cement their role as the power-broker between the two establishment blocs with polls showing they may win close to 20 percent of the vote. The stage is set for one of the most turbulent eras of modern Swedish politics.

“My starting point is that we should get the strongest possible impact for our policies,” said Jimmie Akesson, the party’s leader, in an interview Thursday in Stockholm. “Who’s prepared to go furthest to meet our demands?”

The demands center around halting immigration in a nation that experienced a record inflow of migrants during the refugee crisis a few years ago, sending the population surging and triggering an economic boom while at the same time pressuring Sweden’s cherished welfare system. The party wants measures to improve the situation for people with low pay, retirees living in poverty and women working in the public sector.

Read more on Sweden’s economy here

But driving a hard bargain will only be possible if the establishment parties stick to their traditional left-right divide and forgo forming a grand coalition such as in Germany, where the nationalist Alternative for Germany entered parliament for the first time.

Sweden has never had a grand coalition and it’s not being much discussed ahead of the election. Akesson is doubtful that parliamentary tactics will work in the long-run to deny his party influence.

“The difficult thing isn’t becoming prime minister, that’s probably possible in one way or another through one side laying down their votes or something like that,” he said. “The difficult thing will be to rule Sweden for four years, and not think that it’ll be necessary to talk to someone else.”

The Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010 for the first time and won 13 percent of the vote in 2014. So far the party has been shunned as a partner because of its neo-Nazi roots. But it has sought to clean out some of its more extreme members to broaden its backing and win political allies. That has fallen on deaf ears, so far.

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Akesson said the most likely, and preferred, ally would be the Moderate Party, which like the Social Democrats has undergone a transformation from being pro-immigration to advocating for strict checks on inflows. But since the center-right Alliance is split on immigration, it can’t be certain of SD’s support.

“If the speculations are that we are prepared to support an Alliance government, then of course the outcome on migration policy is highly decisive,” Akesson said.

He has noticed a change in tone, even though the opposition and government are still demanding that his party breaks more cleanly with its past.

“They used to say that they couldn’t collaborate with us due to our migration policy” he said. “It’s been a long time since they mentioned that as a reason.”

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