Sweden’s nationalist anti-immigration party Sweden Democrats have emerged as the third biggest party in parliament on Sunday’s elections, but are claiming to lead the opposition.

The centre-left and centre-right political alliances find themselves in a virtual tie and will struggle to form a government in what is effectively a hung parliament.

Like elsewhere in Europe, the new political cleavage cutting across Swedish politics is the stance towards Europe and immigration. Sweden too is divided among “moderate “and anti-systemic parties.

The Sweden Democrats lead the anti-systemic pole of the political spectrum. Their ambition is to influence the political agenda. However, a government needs to be formed first, in which they will not participate.

Sweden Democrats

When exit polls came out on Sunday evening, September 9, Sweden Democrats (SD) held just under 18% (17,9%), compared to just under 13(12,9%) in 2014. By the end of the evening and 84% of the votes counted, the numbers confirmed they will lead the opposition (17,6%) as the third biggest party in parliament.

For much of the evening, Sweden Democrats hovered in the region of 20% and hoped for second place. However, the political effect of third place cannot be underestimated.

Exit polls also made clear early enough that the incumbent Social Democrats were heading for their worst electoral outcome for more than a century. Exit polls placed them at 28%, a mark which late at night they outperformed by merely 0,4%.

Dropping below 30% is not only worse than 2014 (31%), but their worst performance since 1911.

Hung Parliament

Until late in the evening it was clear which alliance – centre-left or centre-right – would secure a mandate to form a government. The key was the performance of the Green Party, who struggled to pass the 4$ threshold to enter the parliament. By the end of the evening, they had seized 4,4%, handing the centre-left the political initiative in a hung parliament.

The centre-left alliance between the Social Democrats, the Green Party, and the Left Party secured 40.6%, leaving behind the centre-right alliance by 40,03% (Moderates, Center Party, Christian Democrats, and Liberals).

The leader of the Moderate party, Ulf Kristersson, called for the resignation of prime minister Stefan Löfven. The moderates secured 19,8%, down from 23,3% in 2014. Their defeat, even if marginal, was pronounced because they lost ground while in opposition. The only member of the centre-right Alliance to do better than 2014 were the Christian Democrats (from 4,6% in 2014 to 6,4% in 2018).

Lofven spoke of the “moral responsibility” of mainstream parties to form a government.

Because the centre-right alliance is committed not to cooperate with the “toxic” Swedish Democrats, the choice now is between a German-style right-left alliance or the formation of an inherently unstable minority government.

By virtue of they systemic role, Sweden Democrats are now claiming the role of opposition leaders.

The new role of the Sweden Democrats

By virtue of the Sweden Democrats, one of the main campaign themes was immigration.

The Sweden Democrats linked a number of issues to immigration, including education, housing, and health services.

The result appears to be boosting the chances of the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration right ahead of the 2019 European Elections. Following the 2015 refugee crisis, the anti-immigration agenda changed the electoral map in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, and Italy.

Sweden received more asylum seekers than any other EU member state per capita. The country with a population of 10 million people received 160,000 refugees in 2015 alone.

The ruling Social Democrats campaigned on policies for social integration; the centre-right Moderates wanted to place a greater emphasis on policing. Sweden Democrats (SD) were assertive and wanted to focus on deportations and the end of dual citizenship.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the SD was linked to neo-Nazi movement and its historical leadership were members of the SS. Their leader, Jimmie Akesson, claims to have reformed the party since taking on the leadership in 2005.

During the 2018 campaign, Akesson pronounced “zero tolerance” against racism, although the Swedish press did publish a number of features on the neo-Nazi credentials of many of the candidates running. White supremacy and even anti-Semitic slogans were not completely absent, at least on social media.

Like a number of parties of the far-right in Europe, the SD is also vehemently anti-European, advocating for a Swexit referendum. Demographically, they seem to cater to white, male, non-university educated constituents.