Friday 24 May 2019

Far right set to be kingmaker in Sweden's crunch election

Jimmie Akesson REUTERS
Jimmie Akesson REUTERS

James Rothwell in Stockholm

Sweden's 7.3 million voters head to the polls on Sunday after an extraordinary election campaign which has seen yet another right-wing populist party dominate the headlines.

The Sweden Democrats has been projected to win up to 25pc of the vote, which makes it a potential kingmaker in ensuing coalition talks.

But there's a catch - Sweden's mainstream parties have refused to work with the Sweden Democrats, which has roots in neo-Nazi movements, so election day could be just the start of a period of major political turmoil in Sweden.

The Sweden Democrats was founded in 1988 and had links to Swedish fascist and white nationalist organisations. One of its founders and early board members, Gustaf Ekström, served in the Waffen-SS.

The Sweden Democrats was a fringe group until the refugee crisis began in 2015, when its anti-mass migration message began to gain traction in a country that took in more refugees per capita than any other European country.

The group is led by 39-year-old Jimmie Åkesson, who was elected as a Swedish MP in 2010 and has been leader since 2005. He rejects the far-right label and says he considers himself a social conservative and a nationalist. He has described Islamic fundamentalism as "the Nazism and communism of our time".

Many analysts have compared him to Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right party Front National, which nearly won the 2017 election.

Mr Åkesson's focus as leader has been on detoxifying the party's image. He introduced a zero-tolerance policy for racism in the party and has disowned the group's Nazi past.

His policies centre on mass immigration. The influx, the party says, is eroding the country's welfare state, social fabric and security. That appears to have resonated with voters who feel the Social Democrat prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has failed to address concerns.

If the Sweden Democrats returns a strong result, a coalition would need its support to push through major legislation. This could allow Mr Åkesson to wield considerable power, even if his party does not end up in government. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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