In percentage terms, the party has more than doubled its support, while the established parties fell back.
In 2001 the Sweden Democrats took two seats on the Church Assembly, with 0.8% of the votes. Now, with 95% of the votes counted, the Sweden Democrats look certain to have increased that figure to 1.7%, translating to 4 seats.
“We are quite satisfied,” commented party chairman Mikael Jansson, who admitted that he was hoping for 2-3% of the vote.
The Social Democrats campaigned hard to get their voters to the polling booths to stop the Sweden Democrats.
But Michael Jansson said he believes that the campaign could, in fact, have backfired for the Social Democrats.
“Many of their voters are quite close to us and actually have no interest in stopping us. [The Social Democrat campaign] could also have helped to get our voters out,” he said.
Jansson said that the Sweden Democrats see the Church Election as a springboard to parliament.
“There’s still a fair way to go but 4% is definitely attainable,” he said. 4% support is the threshold for a party to take seats in parliament. In recent opinion polls, both the Greens and the Christian Democrats were hovering around that mark.
The Social Democrats’ party secretary Marita Ulvskog told TT that if the Sweden Democrats are to be held back, all the established parties must clearly show that it is not a political party like the others. Above all, she criticised the Liberals (Folkpartiet) which she believes has legitimised the Sweden Democrats.
“They have actually engaged in direct debate with representatives of the Sweden Democrats and other parties on the far right,” said Ulvskog.
The Social Democrats have lost support in the Swedish Church since 2001, along with the Moderates and Christian Democrats.
“I can only say that the established parliamentary parties as a whole have slipped back,” said Lars Friedner, general secretary of the Swedish Church.
The Church Election is held every four years and has traditionally had low voter turnout. In 2001 the turnout rose to 14.2% from 10.8% in the previous election. But this year turnout has shrunk again, to 11% of the 5.8 million Swedes who were entitled to vote.