In dramatic shift, right-wing bloc wins slim majority in Sweden
By Christina Anderson and Isabella Kwai
Sweden’s right-wing parties combined to win a remarkable, if slim, election victory earlier this week, buoyed by surging support for a far-right nationalist party, the Sweden Democrats, an electoral convulsion expected to shake national politics and likely end eight years of rule by the center-left.
With more than 99% of ballots counted, the Swedish Election Authority reported that the right-wing bloc had won 176 of the 349 seats in Parliament. The Swedish Social Democratic Party, the main party in the current governing coalition, grabbed the highest percentage votes as an individual party, but together with its allies, had secured 173 seats in Parliament, not enough to stay in power.
The most stunning development was support for the Sweden Democrats, once considered an extremist party, which emerged as the second-most popular party in the country. While the party’s support will be essential to the right-wing bloc maintaining its majority bloc in Parliament, it is unlikely to be a formal part of the new government.
During the election campaign, the bloc of right-wing parties agreed to support a government led by the center-right Moderate Party but not one led by the Sweden Democrats. That means the new government is expected to be led by Ulf Kristersson, head of the Moderates, who would become prime minister.
Kristersson said on Facebook that his party and allies had been “given the mandate for change.”
Analysts said that the vote Sunday had been one of the closest in modern times and reflected a desire by Swedes to move in a new direction after decades of center-left policymaking that has included an openness toward asylum-seekers, an emphasis on individual liberties and an adherence to socially liberal ideals.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson conceded the result Wednesday and announced that she would resign from the role Thursday. “I know that a lot of Swedes are concerned. I see your concern and I share it,” she said of the advance from the Sweden Democrats.
“Now we will get order in Sweden,” Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats wrote on Facebook on Wednesday: “It is time to start rebuilding security, prosperity and cohesion. It’s time to put Sweden first.”
The announcement of the result followed days of uncertainty, and election officials had delayed calling a winner so that they could tally mail-in votes and ballots from citizens living abroad.
The right-wing bloc will be fragile: The Moderate Party, which finished in third place with 19.1% of the vote, and the Sweden Democrats, which took 20.6%, are likely to clash over several policies, such as welfare benefits, where the Moderates are looking for bigger cuts than the Sweden Democrats want.
Other parties in the bloc, such as the Liberals, which took 4.6% of the vote, will also want to have their say, leaving the Moderates facing a complex task in balancing the competing interests.
Soren Holmberg, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, said, “It will be a very fragile situation for Swedish parliamentary democracy for the next four years,” adding that there were enough political differences among the right-wing bloc to make consensus difficult.
Already on Wednesday, Romina Pourmokhtari, a lawmaker for the Liberal Party vowed to bring down the government if the Sweden Democrats were in it.
“I ran for office to defend human freedoms and rights. That’s where we Liberals need to put our energy in the coming years,” she told the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter.
Nonetheless, the outcome will mean a change of direction for the country, analysts predicted, and it showcased the extent to which the party of the Sweden Democrats, which has worked to rebrand itself from its origins in Nazi ideology, had upended politics in the country.
“It will be away from the Sweden we know until today — that trajectory is broken,” said Jonas Hinnfors, a political science professor at the University of Gothenburg.
What was still unclear, Hinnfors noted, was precisely how much influence the Sweden Democrats would have, considering that the party had taken so much of the vote but was not expected to be a formal part of the new government. Four years ago, in the last election, right-wing parties had vowed not to work with the Sweden Democrats at all.
During the election, the main issues for voters appeared to have been health care, immigration and integration, the energy crisis that has been prompted in large part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and law and order — in particular, the increasing prevalence of gun crime in a country normally known for high living standards.
With inflation rising, Andersson, the outgoing prime minister and leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, had promised to increase welfare benefits, institute a tax on the highest earners, support those affected by rising energy prices and increase military spending. With those pledges, the party took 30.4% of the vote, more than any other single party but not enough to keep the center-left in power.
The results mean that Sweden joins other nations in Europe where far-right parties that were once on the fringe have gained mainstream influence. They include Marine le Pen’s National Rally in France and the Vox party in Spain. In Italy, an alliance headed by a far-right party is leading in the polls to win this month’s election.
Akesson, the longtime leader of the Sweden Democrats, has tried to moderate the party’s image and distance it from its white supremacist roots — acknowledging, for example, that a study of the party’s founders and their ideological beliefs did not make “for pleasant reading.”
More recently, the party has reversed its opposition to Sweden’s joining NATO and stepped back from a proposal to leave the European Union.
The essence of the Sweden Democrats’ vision is ethnonationalist and conservative, Hinnfors said. “They want harmony in society by having everyone with their loyalty to Sweden,” he noted, adding that the party viewed multiculturalism as the root of many problems in Sweden.
Other analysts said that they expected the party to focus on immigration, education and spending, including limiting financing for public services.
The growing influence of the far right has caused some to express concern about the country’s future. “To all Black and brown people in Sweden — be extra vigilant now,” Jason Diakité, a Swedish rapper known as Timbuktu, wrote on Instagram.
He added, “This election result will undoubtedly embolden even more extreme forces that have existed in this country for almost 100 years.”