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

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.

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

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.

Member comments

  1. 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…

  2. 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.

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


Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.