• Sweden edition
 
The Sweden Democrats - a year in the Riksdag spotlight

The Sweden Democrats - a year in the Riksdag spotlight

Published: 29 Sep 2011 16:28 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Sep 2011 16:28 GMT+02:00

A year has passed since the Sweden Democrats became Sweden’s newest parliamentary party and The Local’s Peter Vinthagen Simpson has a look at what has been achieved, what has not and what has changed.

On election night in September 2010, Sweden Democrat (SD) party secretary Björn Söder gave his view on the party’s status as kingmaker as the results confirmed that the Alliance government would lose its Riksdag majority.

“It means that the other parties should be ready to negotiate with us," he told The Local at the time.

But the phone never rang at Sweden Democrat headquarters and instead the party was gradually forced to adapt to its role as simply one of the four parties forming the opposition to a minority government.

An early cross-bloc agreement between the Alliance government and the Green Party over integration and asylum policy left the Sweden Democrats unable to have any impact on their flagship issue, but according to political scientist Andreas Johansson Heinö this did not stop them from staking their case.

“They had to do what they had to do. To speak about integration issues all the time. In the spring we have seen that they talk less about integration and more about other issues,” he tells The Local.

During their first first six months in the Riksdag, the Sweden Democrats tended to support the government in propositions and the Alliance’s status as a minority government was barely tangible to the electorate. As the Riksdag year progressed, however, a new strategy emerged, prompting a series of defeats for the Alliance.

Ulf Bjereld, a professor in political science at Gothenburg University, tells The Local that this development was part of a conscious strategy and was in response to the break up of the red-green opposition bloc.

“The early months of 2011 were characterised by a lack of leadership in the opposition because the Social Democrats were looking for a new leader. In April, May, June the situation changed and SD realised that the only way to influence the government was to coordinate with the opposition,” Bjereld says.

The first significant defeat for the government in parliament came in December with the passage of a bill slashing the budget of the Government Offices, a decision which has been blamed for a slew of embassy closures.

The second noteable setback came in March 2011 when the assembled opposition voted to block the sale of share holdings in a number of state-owned companies including power utility Vattenfall and telecoms giant TeliaSonera.

While the government played down the defeats as part and parcel of minority government - more the rule than the exception in Swedish politics - the votes illustrated the potential legislative relevance of the Sweden Democrats.

Prior to the 2010 election there was much debate about how the other parties would relate to the Sweden Democrats. Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt appeared at times to be competing in who had the toughest stance on the issue.

The discussion was criticised by some observers both before and after the election who argued that the Sweden Democrats should be treated like any other party, and their voters, however few in percentage terms, should be respected.

While at a local, municipal level there has been contact between the Sweden Democrats and other parties for some time, Johansson Heinö observes, at a national level there is little movement on this issue.

“At the party leader level this is still a taboo issue. No party can afford to lose that position. To be accused of dealing with the SD. Not for the time being anyway,” he says.

Ulf Bjereld argues that while formal contact to “sound out” the position of the Sweden Democrats remains frowned upon, there is some shift in how the government and the opposition parties think when considering their propositions.

“Both sides have kept their promises. They have been very clear in their election campaigns - that there would be no formal or informal cooperation. But they consider how the SD would stand. There is little doubt about that,” he explains.

The government’s decision in August to delay the introduction of a fifth in-work tax credit, a key element of its jobs policy, has been cited as a reflection of this, despite finance minister Anders Borg’s opportune use of the eurozone troubles to argue instead that the decision displayed fiscal responsibility.

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson’s perhaps most high profile appearance of the parliamentary year was back in January when the party called for a Riksdag debate on “extremism” in the wake of a failed suicide bombing in central Stockholm in December.

Åkesson argued in parliament that the debate in Sweden about Islamic extremism has been infected by a fear of saying the wrong things. The party was in turn criticised for using the foiled attack, perpetrated by Taimour Abdulwahab, an Iraqi-born Swedish citizen who had been living in the UK, to make political gain.

The “Danish development” is the term use to describe a normalisation in the political and public debate in Sweden’s southerly neighbour following the election to parliament of the Danish People’s Party (DPP), a party with a similar nationalist, anti-Islam platform as the Sweden Democrats.

This normalisation refers to the acceptance of the party and its views as positions like any other - no matter how “extreme” they are perceived to be by mainstream society. It also refers to an accommodation by mainstream parties to these views in order to win back SD voters.

The Sweden Democrats have themselves demanded to be accepted as a legitimate political party, reflected in their demands to be considered as partners for political and legislative cooperation.

“They want to become like any other party. The DPP is not just integration, but law and order and pensioners,” Johansson Heinö explains, while observing that “SD have much to gain by playing the martyr - maintaining the impression that they are being unfairly treated”.

Bjereld argues that there has been some shift in how the media describes the party and its ideas using terms like “immigration-critical” instead of “immigration-hostile” and refraining from describing them as “xenophobic”, using instead terms such as “populist” and “nationalist”.

The party’s progression has not been without setbacks during its first year in the Riksdag spotlight however.

A slew of members have been expelled from the party for various indiscretions often involving ill-thought out missives on social media forums.

Several of these headline-grabbing incidents were reactions of several senior members on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik.

Kent Ekeroth, who along with his brother Ted support an “Anti-Islamisation fund” which states its aim as “the fight against Islam”, was among those quick to place the blame on Islamic terrorism.

Björn Söder was forced to take steps to warn senior party members not to jump to conclusions. In the days following the attacks, Åkesson repeatedly distanced the party from the perpetrator of the attacks, a right-wing nationalist, who in his manifesto cited SD among his influences.

Few opinion-makers apportioned direct blame on the party, however, and SD escaped largely unscathed in the polls from the added focus on right-wing extremism. Little has furthermore changed in how the party addresses its core issues and SD have generally maintained their vocal, heated rhetoric.

More serious for the party hierarchy has been a recent incident involving MP Erik Almqvist who was arrested following reports that he had assaulted a doorman at a Stockholm nightspot.

Despite the party's strong focus on the issue of law and order, Ulf Bjereld argues that while for most parties this type of public behaviour would be frowned upon by voters, it may actually help the Sweden Democrats.

“Most voters don’t like this type of behaviour among young, male, high-salaried members of parliament. But the SD are different. It could profile the SD as a party unlike the others, as rebels,” he explains.

The resignation from the party this week of MP William Petzäll over his battle with alcohol and drug abuse presented a stern test for the Sweden Democrats in their attempts to present a united front.

Petzäll's resignation and decision to stand as an independent cut the party's Riksdag representation from 20 to 19 members and was met with a backlash of recriminations from some senior members.

Andreas Johansson Heinö argues that if Petzäll’s one-man revolt can be controlled the party should be able to manage the setback, pointing out that SD have managed to maintain a strong organisation in their first year in the Riksdag.

"One of the strengths of the Sweden Democrats is that they have held together in the parliament with a high degree of unity. This is their first setback and I think they can afford it. They have a good starting point."

Johansson Heinö continued to warn that the situation can't be allowed to spiral out of control though, underlining the importance of the party staying united.

"It has to be a unique incident. This is apparently not a consequence of ideology or policy, it concerns personal issues - that is why it is possible to regard it as unique."

The Sweden Democrats claimed 5.7 percent of the vote in the 2010 election and opinion polls throughout the year have on balance indicated little shift in this position. Neither Johansson Heinö nor Bjereld expect the party to become a one term casualty in the same way as the previous far-right party to claim Riksdag seats, New Democracy, did in the early 1990s.

“SD are another kind of party from New Democracy. They have good possibilities of keeping their seats in 2014, but no growth,” Ulf Bjereld says, pointing out that public opinion has little bearing on their appeal.

Johansson Heinö argues however that the party’s process of normalisation improves its chances of expanding its core of voters.

“They have a core of voters who can’t imagine voting for any other - they are anti-establishment. There is a further base of potential voters which they are attracting slowly. Normalisation is no threat to their core voters - they have no alternative,” he argues.

The Local made several requests for an interview with a senior Sweden Democrat to discuss the party’s view on their first year in the Riksdag, but the requests were ignored.

Related links:

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

16:03 September 30, 2011 by jostein
Hm, a party that has positioned itself exactly between the opposition and the government on all isues except their three focus areas(immigration, situation for the elderly and law&order). And that argues for a normalization of swedens immigrationpolicy with the rest of Europe and that the swedish government should look to the wellbeing of swedish citizens first. Only in sweden can such a party be described as extreme. Welcome to the rabbithole.
02:31 October 1, 2011 by Not Dumb
A good 'feature' on the SD...but the material seemed fact, not opinion.

Both New Democracy and the SD have risen on the backs of economic downturns and the problems these brought, the knee-jerk scapegoating of 'the others' in Sweden, immigrants, marking these moments. As to where we presently stand with SD, I personally believe that a wolf in sheep's clothing remains a wolf, and that it's tragic SD indirectly influences the agendas -- as pointed out in the article -- of the other Riksdag parties, the nation effectively sliding increasigly into xenophobia, and most native-born Swedes remaining sadly unaware they are doing so.

And, that's all I have to say...
14:11 October 2, 2011 by cen1
@ Not Dumb

Agreed, you appear not to be dumb. Have you read the article "Silence won't solve the problems with a multicultural society" and subsequent comments? The comments certainly support your statement regarding xenophobia - quite depressing!

It also appeared interesting to me how so many people chose to comment on a simple and shallow opinion piece, rather than the two who chose to comment on a deeper political article on the same topic...
12:10 October 3, 2011 by Byggare Bob
@cen1

sadly many people are unwilling to read beyond the first para. And are unwilling to have their basic view challenged or hear evidence/analysis which counters it.

The analogy of wolves in sheep's clothing is quite accurate I think. It has become politically correct (under the guise of "telling it like it is" to say "SD aren't racist" and

"No I wouldn't vote for SD, but we do need to talk about this" - ignoring the fact that with regards to "utanförskap" we have been talking for decades.
06:09 October 10, 2011 by ericrufinosiah
Today,in Sweden I could see that the only party that could be trusted by the natives

Swedish is The Sweden Democrat and it's leader Jimme Akesson,and he should

be given a chance to lead Sweden .His fearless attitude in tackling and voicing

out the genuine frustration of the Swedish shouldn't be swept the under the carpet

whereby the phobia of being label a " racist " .What more can you asked for a

party that is new but which see what the Swedish people wished for in their future.
07:41 November 8, 2011 by Uncle
The biggest achievement of SD is that their "extreme" rhetoric allowed Moderates and Social Democrats to start TALKING about the awful problems that immigration (mostly islamic) is arriving with.

After the elections, discussions of improving SFI, setting requirements on the new arrivals in regards to criminal activity and learning, as well as programs benefiting businesses that hire new arrivals has started.

Before that, these issues were tabu and all Socialist government did was to bring truckloads of low educated refugees that have a proven record of not being able to adapt to the west even in second generation. Then the government wondered why prisons are more filled, swedes started to lock their doors and fuel stations demand cash in advance all of a sudden. Of course the immediate PC blame was laid on the "society" and truckloads kept arriving.

Now there is certain degree of ACCOUNTING on what is going on among the accepted new arrivals. There is media discussion whenever immigrants are involved in criminal activities. There is no week in SVT, when immigration adaptation is not discussed. This is the achievement of SD.
Today's headlines
Sponsored Article
On the move: Sweden's shifting mobility trends
House keys: Shutterstock.

On the move: Sweden's shifting mobility trends

Finding somewhere to live when you move to Sweden is a challenge. With changes afoot The Local caught up with an expert from letting agency Residensportalen to find out in what direction the market is going, and how Google Glasses may just help you find your dream home. READ () »

The Local List
Ten most disgusting Swedish foods
Salty liquorice, anyone? Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Ten most disgusting Swedish foods

Swedish food is, of course, a matter of taste. But it's mostly disgusting. Our loyal followers on Twitter and Facebook shared what they thought were the worst of them all. READ () »

Sweden wants cruise missiles 'for defence'
Defence Minister Karin Enström. File photo: TT

Sweden wants cruise missiles 'for defence'

The Swedish government has announced plans to beef up its defence forces by fitting its fleet of Gripen fighter jets with long-range cruise missiles. READ () »

Swede of the Week
Sweden's oldest would-be MP: 'They promised I wouldn't get in'
Swedes vote in the 2010 elections. File photo: Dan Hansson/TT

Sweden's oldest would-be MP: 'They promised I wouldn't get in'

Gösta Arvedson, 89, is the oldest Riksdag candidate in Sweden, but our Swede of the Week explains that the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) had to make some unusual promises for him to put his name forward. READ () »

Elections 2014
Most Swedes lack info ahead of EU vote
The Green Party is one of only two parties devoting their websites to the EU elections. Here campaign manager Emma Rung presents the party's posters. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Most Swedes lack info ahead of EU vote

The majority of Swedes feel the country's political parties are not doing enough to inform them about the upcoming European Parliament elections. Only two of the eight parties have dedicated their homepages to the May 25th polls. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping Brawl
Local church tried to stop Norrköping murders
Swedish police on the scene following Monday's fatal brawl. File: TT

Local church tried to stop Norrköping murders

The Syrian-Orthodox Church in Ektorp had tried to quell tensions between two rival families just hours before bad blood spilled into a massive brawl and two brothers lost their lives. READ () »

JobTalk Sweden
'Foreigners don't need to show banks Swedish ID'
The bridge that connects Sweden to the European continent. File: L.E. Daniel Larsson/Flickr

'Foreigners don't need to show banks Swedish ID'

The Swedish agency that helps Europeans fight impediments to the EU principle of free movement has revealed an increase in complaints, including one from a foreign citizen unable to open a bank account in Sweden. READ () »

Eurovision 2014
Pig heart shatters in Sweden's Eurovision clip
Sanna Nielsen in the new clip. Photo: YouTube (screenshot)

Pig heart shatters in Sweden's Eurovision clip

Sweden's Eurovision hopeful Sanna Nielsen released the official video for the song Undo on Wednesday, a clip featuring leather, slow motion destruction, and a frozen pig's heart and some violence. READ () »

Software robot pinches Swedish flats in seconds
Swedish apartments. File: The Local

Software robot pinches Swedish flats in seconds

A Swedish landlord suspects that a property fixer has set up a software robot to sign up for new flats on the market within seconds, and is charging house hunters to use the service. READ () »

Swedish zoo fire 'kills only the spiders'
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Swedish zoo fire 'kills only the spiders'

Twenty-five fire fighters were on hand on Wednesday night when a fire broke out in a southern Sweden animal park. The vast majority of the animals were unharmed, but the cluster of spiders wasn't so lucky. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
On the move: Sweden's shifting mobility trends
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 23
TT
Gallery
Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Features
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Gallery
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Features
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
National
University applications rocket to record high
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 18-20
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Advertisement:
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

718
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com