2022 Swedish election For Members

What have the Sweden Democrats proved in four years of municipal rule?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
What have the Sweden Democrats proved in four years of municipal rule?
Louise Erixon, the SD mayor of Sölvesborg makes her speech introducing the party's leader (and her ex partner) Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

On a visit to Sölvesborg, the showcase municipality the Sweden Democrats have led for the last four years, Richard Orange found surprisingly few angry, disappointed, or dissatisfied citizens.


Perhaps the perfect summer weather has put them all in an upbeat mood, but people in the small and charming Swedish city of Sölvesborg in Blekinge, do not seem to have found the last four years of life under a Sweden Democrat mayor particularly traumatic. 

"As a small businessman and even as a citizen, I can say that it is exactly the same as it was before," declares a mechanic, hands coated in grease, as he fiddles with an old trailer down one of the coastal city's many cobbled streets.

"There's a lot of moaning. Before, the Sweden Democrats were in opposition, which meant that everything the Social Democrats did was wrong, and now the red bloc is in opposition, which means that everything the Sweden Democrats do is wrong. There's no difference." 


For Suzanne Karlsson, who runs a health food shop in the main central square, the security guards the Sweden Democrats have hired to patrol the city's streets are an improvement, but she's disappointed at the decision to take down the rainbow pride flag from its place outside the municipality offices. 

Even at the election hut for the Left Party in the town's main square, the activists grudgingly concede that nothing has gone catastrophically wrong. 

"In a municipality, there are no disagreements on most issues," explains Willy Söderdahl, the party's leading municipal councillor. "In Sölvesborg council, we think the same thing on about 80 percent, 90 percent of issues, and in schools and healthcare, there are rules from the government, so there's nothing that we decide." 

When the Sweden Democrats won the mayoral position in a handful of municipalities in Sölvesborg in the region of Blekinge on Sweden's southeast coast, and in Hörby and Bromölla, and later Bjuv and Svalöv in neighbouring Skåne, many of the party's opponents hoped that chaos would ensue, or that the party would put off voters by driving through populist, and sometimes illegal policies. 

And the last four years have not been free of scandal. 

Cecilia Bladh in Zito at a press conference about a naked bathing scandal in Hörby. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

In Hörby, the Moderate Party has withdrawn from the ruling coalition, and the opposition councillors have called for the Sweden Democrat mayor, Cecilia Bladh in Zito, to resign after the Aftonbladet newspaper revealed that she had paid at least 2.5 million kronor in cash to building firms when renovating her house to help them avoid tax. 

This came after Stefan Borg, who was expected to take over as mayor after the election, had to stand down after reporters found a string of homophobic and racist posts he had made on social media. 

In Bromölla, next door to Sölvesborg, the Sweden Democrats gave up trying to control the municipality in January last year, after failing to overcome the opposition of other parties. 

And in Svalöv, the Sweden Democrat mayor, Teddy Nilsson, admitted to Sydsvenskan earlier this year that the party had not been able to implement a single one of the promises they had made before the 2018 election. 

READ ALSO: 'The Sweden Democrats are needed in government'



But in Sölvesborg, the home town of Sweden Democrat party leader Jimmie Åkesson, the party pulled out all the stops to make sure it succeeded, to make it a showcase for the party ahead of this year's election. 
For Louise Erixon, Sölvesborg's Sweden Democrat mayor, her party's period in office has been a rebuke to the people she denounced in a rousing speech last Saturday as the "professional opinion makers in Stockholm". 
After the 2018 election, these Stockholm-based experts had, she said, shown a "bizarre interest" in seeking to "crush us, crush the coalition, and crush Sweden Democrats". 
"But it didn't work", Erixon, who separated from Åkesson two years ago, said. "It had completely the opposite effect. The people who lived here got together. They'll never manage to crush us, they'll never manage to crush the Sweden Democrats, they'll never manage to crush the coalition, because we stand together, and I'm convinced that many other municipalities are going to have the same joy that we have here here in Sölvesborg after this election." 


She cited a poll the party had ordered from SIFO which, she claimed, showed that voter support for SD had increased from 29 percent to 37 percent since the 2018 election. "We are eating up the Social Democrats, bite by bite," she said. 
In the pandemic, she boasted, Sölvesborg had been one of the first municipalities to ban visits to old age people's homes, and also the first to give staff working with elderly proper protection. She said the municipality was now ranked in the top 15 in Sweden for how business-friendly it was. She pointed to the city's begging ban, the 'municipality safety force', language tests for those caring for the elderly, automatic counselling for all school pupils, and drug tests in schools. 
Robert Lindén, a former sea captain and executive with Electrolux and Eniro, who the party appointed its city councillor in charge of elderly care, told The Local that the party had been careful to appoint competent people to posts like his, as it could not afford to be seen to fail. 
"We built the team here in Sölvesborg on the basis of competence, that was the main strategy that we had," he said. "When we picked people from the membership, we were looking for people with experience in business, and that's what's different from most other politicians." 


Birgit Birgersson-Brorsson, group leader of the once-dominant Social Democrats, told The Local she still hoped her party would win back the lead in next month's poll. 

She listed all of the things the Sweden Democrats had done to harm the town, chief of which was the decision to close down a municipality-owned old people's home, and invite in a private company. 

"We think that was quite bad, because we want to have control over our elderly care the municipality," she says. 

At the same time, the six million kronor a year the municipality is spending on its security guards, she argues, could be put to much better use. 

"We think we could use that money in schools, healthcare, and elderly care, and also childcare, we could employee a lot more people," she says. 

Back at the town square, the Left Party's Willy Söderdahl argued that the Sweden Democrats had benefited from the extra money municipalities were given during the pandemic, saying he expected more problems if they once again win power after September 11th. 

As for the security guards, people in the town do seem to appreciate them. 

"I think it's a bit better now, and maybe there are fewer kids with drugs, I don't know," says Karlsson at health food shop. "But I think it's good when these security guards and walking around and making it a little bit safer." 

The guards themselves, however, are not so sure, with Toby Hult, one of the two on duty when I visit saying there was actually not that much for him to do, and certainly no problem with violent crime in the city. 

"We have some problems with Romanians begging and stuff like that, and old guys drinking alcohol, but that's about it," he says. "But maybe just our appearance here calms things down." 

For Söderdahl's colleagues at the Left Party tent, the guards are just one example of the change in atmosphere Sweden Democrat rule has brought. 

"People are more divided, that's the most visible change," says Gördis Byqvist, one of the activists. "They are trying to make people feel uncomfortable and afraid."


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