PROFILE: How Jimmie Åkesson has led Sweden’s far-right to brink of power

As leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson has steered his party from "pariah" to heavyweight whose support is indispensable if the right-wing bloc wants to govern after Sunday's election.

PROFILE: How Jimmie Åkesson has led Sweden's far-right to brink of power
The leader of the Sweden Democrats Jimmie Akesson arrives at the party's election watch in Nacka, near Stockholm late Sunday evening on September 11, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats soared to become the country’s second-biggest party in the legislative vote, garnering 20.7 percent with 94 percent of electoral districts counted.

With his impeccably coiffed brown hair, glasses and neatly-trimmed beard, the casually-dressed 43-year-old looks like your average Swede.    

That’s par for the course for someone who in 17 years as party leader has transformed an often-violent neo-Nazi movement known as “Keep Sweden Swedish” into a nationalist party with a flower as its logo.

“He wants to give the impression that he’s an ordinary guy… who grills sausages, talks normally and goes on charter trips to the Canary Islands”, Jonas Hinnfors, a political science professor at Gothenburg University, told AFP.

“He does everything he can to not come across as an intellectual or well-educated,” he added.

Åkesson was raised in a middle-class family with an entrepreneur father and a mother who worked as a nursing assistant in Sölvesborg, a town of 9,000 people in southern Sweden.

It was there, in rural Scania’s small towns and farmsteads, that SD built its stronghold, amid concerns about the heavily immigrant-populated city of Malmo nearby.

‘Zero tolerance’

Åkesson joined the Sweden Democrats in the 1990s after a disappointing teenage stint in the main right-wing party, the conservative Moderates.

After leaving Lund University without a degree, he took over the SD party leadership in 2005, when voter support was steadily around one percent.

The party underwent a major makeover, replacing its blue-and-yellow torch logo with an anemone, and vowing to rid itself of its racist and violent roots.

It later announced a “zero tolerance” policy against racism in 2012, though critics regularly denounce the attempts as superficial.

In August, an investigative report by Swedish research group Acta Publica found that 289 politicians from parties represented in parliament were involved in either racist or Nazi activities, a large majority of them — 214 — from the Sweden Democrats

Controversies regularly flare over the party’s errant members, but it has managed to steadily climb in the polls nonetheless.

It won 5.7 percent of votes when it entered parliament in 2010, 12.9 percent in 2014 when it became Sweden’s third biggest party in parliament, and 17.5 percent in 2018.

Its rise has come alongside Sweden’s heavy immigration. The country of 10.3 million people has welcomed around half a million asylum seekers in the past decade.

The party has stolen voters from both the conservative Moderates as well as the Social Democrats, especially among working class men.

In addition, the fight against crime, which has long been one of the party’s main issues, was for the first time one of voters’ top concerns in Sunday’s election amid a soaring rise in gang shootings.

“I think (our success) can be explained by the fact that people don’t think the other parties take their problems seriously”, Åkesson told AFP at an election rally in Stockholm in August.

‘The most influence’

Åkesson, who once said Muslims were “the biggest foreign threat since World War II”, has over the years watered down the party’s rhetoric and policies, like other nationalist parties in Europe, according to analysts.

Once in favour of a “Swexit”, the party in 2019 abandoned the idea of leaving the European Union due to a lack of public support.

And while other European far-right parties have expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, SD has come out in favour of Ukraine in the war and expressed support for Sweden’s NATO membership bid, a notion it had opposed until Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to Hinnfors, the Sweden Democrats have gone from a party “that says no to everything to a party that considers the parliamentary situation and is beginning to see where they can have the most influence, possibly cooperate, and make the fewest possible compromises”.

Åkesson’s meteoric career success has, however, taken its toll.    

In 2014, he admitted to an online gambling addiction, and then took a six-month leave from politics after suffering from burnout.

A fan of crime novels and whose favourite foods are pizza and fries, Åkesson is divorced and has an eight-year-old son.

Member comments

  1. I read a lot of comments from upset people especially from relative newcomers to Sweden, but also from some who have been in Sweden for years.

    As Sweden seems to be transforming, and given the concerns expressed in these pages – I am again recommendation Canada as a good option for those looking for a good safe country and relatively fast immigration process. Canada is another advanced nation, and it is throwing the doors open now under it’s leftist government – the Trudeau Liberals. Canada has a points based immigration system – but the standards are wide open and almost anyone can qualify, especially if holding a university degree (in anything). The universities are good, and huge. Check out the world rankings for the University of Toronto, UBC, McGill, the University of Alberta and many others – and compare those rankings to the top Swedish universities (KTH, Handelshogskolan, Chalmers, etc.). Consider also the slightly lower taxes, and the slightly lower cost of living. And most of all – Canada has nearly endless natural resources – and Western Canada has a few hundred years of Natural Gas as proven and probable reserves (and probably more on top of that) so you won’t go cold if Russian gas supplies are cut off.

    My advice for those feeling blue given recent political events in Sweden: Pack up and move to Canada. You won’t regret it.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Sweden’s right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The four parties backing Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Sunday announced that they had agreed to keep the current Speaker, Andreas Norlén in place, when the role is put to a vote as parliament opens on Monday.

Sweden's right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The parties won a three-seat majority over the bloc led by the incumbent Social Democrats in Sweden’s general election on September 11th, and are currently in the middle of negotiating how they will form Sweden’s next government. 

Sweden’s parliament meets at 11am for the official installation of the 349 MPs for this mandate period. The votes for the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers are the first item on the agenda, after which the parties each select their parliamentary leaders and then vote on who should chair each of the parliamentary committees. 

READ ALSO: What happens next as parliament reopens? 

In a joint press release announcing the decision, the parties also agreed that the Sweden Democrats would be given eight of the 16 chairmanships the bloc will have of parliamentary committees in the next parliament, and that MPs for all four parties would back Julia Kronlid, the Sweden Democrats’ Second Deputy Leader, as the second deputy Speaker, serving under Norlén. 

In the press release, the parties said that Norlén had over the last four years shown that he has “the necessary personal qualities and qualifications which the role requires”. 

The decision to retain Norlén, who presided over the 134 days of talks and parliamentary votes that led to the January Agreement in 2019, was praised by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson. 

Norlén, she said in a statement, had “managed his responsibilities well over the past four years and been a good representative of Sweden’s Riksdag.” 

The decision to appoint Kronlid was opposed by both the Left Party and the Green Party, who said that she supported tightening abortion legislation, and did not believe in evolution.

The Green Party’s joint leader Märta Stenevi said that her party “did not have confidence in Julia Kronlid”, pointing to an interview she gave in 2014 when she said she did not believe that humans were descended from apes.

The party has proposed its finance spokesperson Janine Alm Ericson as a rival candidate. 

The Left Party said it was planning to vote for the Centre Party’s candidate for the post second deputy Speaker in the hope of blocking Kronlid as a candidate.