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Sweden's populists brush off groping scandal to score big in EU polls

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Sweden's populists brush off groping scandal to score big in EU polls
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson was jubilant at the party's election event in Stockholm. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
09:02 CEST+02:00
The hard-right Sweden Democrats party has emerged as the biggest gainer in the European elections despite a campaign that saw it eject one of its two MEPs from the party after she accused the other of sexual harassment.
"I don't think that played nearly as big a role as many probably think," party leader Jimmie Åkesson told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper after the scale of the party's gains become clear. 
 
"I have noticed as I travel around the country that very few people mention this case. It's a big thing in the media but not among voters." 
 
With 94 percent of voting districts counted, the anti-immigrant party was on 15.4 percent of the vote, 5.7 points up on the 9.8 percent it won in 2014, and enough to bring it one more MEP. 
 
However the party failed to become Sweden's second biggest party in the European Parliament, as polls suggested in the run up to the vote, with a DN/Ipsos poll predicting earlier in the week that the party would win 16.9 percent of the vote.
 
The final result was also less than the 16.9 percent the party received in official exit polls published by Swedish state broadcaster SVT on Sunday evening, and less than the 17.53 percent scored in the September national election.
 
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Sweden Democrat MEP Kristina Winberg was thrown out of the party and removed from the party list and after she accused her MEP colleague Peter Lundgren of groping a colleague's breast, backing up her claim with two phone calls recorded with the victim.  
 
"It was not about destroying the party or anyone, but an abuse that I thought was unacceptable," Winberg told the Expressen newspaper after she went public with her claim. 
 
Lundgren later admitted touching the woman's breast but claimed that it had been a misunderstanding. 
 
“It was late at night and we had all had a bit to drink,” he said. “I know I put my hand on her breast, but not with the intention of anything happening, not at all.”
 
Lundgren last week withdrew from much of the party's election campaigning after he was officially reported to the police, and a prosecutor began to investigate the case. He has also reported Winberg to the police for slander. 
 
The party in February dropped its call for a referendum on Sweden's membership of the European Union, joining other populist parties in a call to change the union from within. 
 
"Our voters do not like the EU and do not like to vote in these elections, but we got a good result anyway," Åkesson told DN. "I am extremely pleased with that." 
 
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