OPINION: This election has changed Sweden – get ready for a bumpy ride

James Savage
James Savage - [email protected]
OPINION: This election has changed Sweden – get ready for a bumpy ride
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson holds an election speech in Malmö on September 10th. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The rise to power of the Sweden Democrats will change Sweden in ways we can’t yet imagine. Foreigners in the country should get ready for a bumpy few years, says James Savage.


You don’t have to be very old to recall when Sweden was a model for the centre-left across the world. Twenty years ago, leftie politicians and journalists from across Europe and beyond would traipse to Stockholm to find out how the Social Democrats over seven decades of rarely-broken rule had managed to combine high taxes and strong social safety nets to create, in the words of one English journalist, the ‘most successful society the world has ever seen’.

It was a very different version of Sweden that the Sweden Democrats were looking to recreate when they urged voters, in sub-Trumpian style, to ‘make Sweden good again,’ but the promise was enough to catapult the party, sprung from the Nazi movement, into a position as the largest party of the election’s winning coalition.


How did it come to this?

In one sense the victory of the right-wing coalition is a result of chance - the result was so close that we could almost as easily now be talking about a historic third consecutive term with the Social Democrats in charge.

But that would be to ignore the seismic nature of what has happened.

Support for Sweden Democrats has risen at every election this century. When they entered the Riksdag in 2010 they had just under six percent of the vote; today they have over 20 percent.

The Sweden Democrats are not a normal party: yes, they have ditched their Nazi-leaning past (ostensibly at least), kicked out members who have said overtly racist things and have abandoned policies like quitting the EU that would have made it hard for them to work together with the mainstream right. Yet they still favour deportations of criminals and people accused of ‘anti-social’ behaviour, want to promote the voluntary repatriation of other immigrants and want to restrict citizenship to people who have been in the country for ten years.

The Sweden Democrats’ language and style are almost as significant as their policies. Like other populist parties, the Sweden Democrats have benefited from the rise of social media, have been masterful at using Twitter and have launched a flashy YouTube channel, Riks, to reach new audiences.

Riks has helped reveal that the Sweden Democrats’ transformation into a respectable outfit is far from complete –– it has become notorious after one of its stars, clearly several drinks in, greeted the Sweden Democrats’ electoral success by raising her left hand and saying something that sounded a lot like ‘Hell Seger’, the Swedish for ‘Sieg Heil’. One leading politician in the party caused fury for calling Islam an ‘abominable religion,’ which is ‘inherently violent’, another claimed that many journalists are ‘enemies of the nation’.

Other parties have tried to use these scandals to discredit the Sweden Democrats, but the strategy has evidently failed.

In the end, many voters felt they hadn’t been consulted about the past decade’s large-scale asylum immigration and felt none of the traditional parties represented their views. Then they looked on with horror as gangs in deprived, mostly immigrant-dominated parts of Sweden went around shooting each other while the authorities and politicians looked on helplessly.

Having been unable to keep the Sweden Democrats at bay, the parties of the mainstream right –– with the exception of Annie Lööf’s Centre Party –– decided that co-opting them was their only route back to power. It was also the only alternative to possibly eternal Social Democratic government - a powerful incentive for parties that have defined themselves in opposition to the centre-left colossus of Swedish politics.


For many people who have come to Sweden to be with loved ones, for a job, or to find refuge, the rise to power of the Sweden Democrats is a worrying moment. That worry is shared by many ordinary Swedes.

It’s important at a moment like this to keep things in proportion: the new coalition has a tiny majority and will face many internal tensions, and any radical proposals will be hard to pass in parliament. But this election result will undoubtedly affect the lives of people from other countries who live here; more broadly, having a populist, far-right party in a position of power will test Sweden’s democratic institutions at a time of immense global uncertainty. One thing is certain: a society that could once claim to be the world’s most successful is going through a rough patch. Be prepared for a bumpy four years.


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kikierickson 2022/09/17 21:15
Dear Sweden, I wish good you good luck indeed. It sounds like Trump is coming into power there. Hate and fear driven changes will not improve quality of life. Next the gun laws? There is no happy ending.
andreas.a.sandberg 2022/09/16 14:25
A bumpy few years? It's been a bumpy eight years with record gang violence, rapes, and shootings in Sweden. There's literally an epidemic of violence happening in this country at the moment and your opinion is that Sweden has changed for the better? What nonsense- the SD's are at least willing to take on some of the challenges presented to society that the left have just completely shunned. Hopefully it's not too late...

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