In a gambit seen as part of his preparations for a post-election deal with Sweden's centre-right, Jimmie Åkesson said he did not think a ban was right.
“I think that it is problematical,” Åkesson told Swedish TV presenter Sven Melander, saying he was against a “blanket ban on any item of clothing”.
“I'm more in favour of limiting parents' ability to force children to wear religious symbols which degrade women,” he said.
The statement came in response to a question on the Danish government formally tabling a burqa ban to parliament, a proposal backed by both the centre-right Liberal Party and the centre-left Social Democrats.
Åkesson has in the past railed against the veil, claiming in 2010 that “terrorists and other criminal elements” used them to disguise their identities. The party's election video that year showed burqa-clad women chasing pensioners.
In 2015, a Sweden Democrat leaflet handed out to refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos warned that the burqa would soon be forbidden in Sweden.
When contacted by Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper after the Melander interview, Åkesson acknowledged that many in the Sweden Democrats supported a ban.
“There's no doubt that there's an opinion in my party to ban it completely,” he said. “But I'm more in favour of forbidding any compulsion, so that children can't be forced to dress in such a garment.”
“You shouldn't allow it in schools. Certain types of veil might come under the law banning being masked,” he added. “So it's a more difficult question than just 'yes' or 'no'.
Later in a message posted on his Facebook page, he seemed to reach out to these core supporters, saying “Nja, [Swedish's grudging half 'no'] I'm not backing down”.
In the post, he stressed that the party might be in favour of a ban on the garment in public places.
“That's a proposal I have no problem with getting behind. I also think that schools, and professions where there's a uniform should also be free from any religious symbol.
Here's the full interview: