Swedish voters will decide on Sunday who will represent them in parliament for the next four years.
Polls say far-right Sweden Democrats, with an anti-immigrant stance, could become the second-largest party in the Riksdag under a right-wing ruling alliance.
Swedish parliamentary politics are characterized by fragmentation of the vote among eight main parties and a polarization toward both left and right “which has made it very difficult for center-left and center-right parties to form governing coalitions,” said David Crouch, a journalist and an author.
Moderates, the traditional right-wing party, are hoping to take over from the ruling Social Democrats relying for the very first time on the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats.
Contrary to their position in the last election, the Moderates have said they are willing to form an alliance with Sweden Democrats.
Bo Andersson, a Moderates politician in Stockholm, said that he has no issue working with the Sweden Democrats as long as they share the same values but he also said: "they will not be part of the government with us.”
In a country that is known for its social democracy and a strong welfare state, the populist Sweden Democrats have surged in polls during the campaigning, and if the polls are correct, they are set to become the second-largest party in the Swedish parliament.
Some observers fear that the far-right party, which was once forbidden from politics due to Nazi ties, will form a government with the Moderates, who may end up winning the elections.
According to Crouch, Sweden Democrats, known for their anti-immigrant and especially anti-Muslim rhetoric, have managed to push entire Swedish politics to the right.
Prime minister's anti-immigrant stance
During her term, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who is a Social Democrats leader, focused on immigrants and gang violence that she exclusively linked to minorities and immigrants.
She also spoke about Sweden's failed integration and has proposed placing a cap on non-Nordic inhabitants in areas in Sweden that are predominantly immigrant.
At one point she said she does not want “Somalitowns, Chinatowns, or Little Italy” in the country.
Moderates local politician Bo Andersson agreed with the prime minister’s proposal and said that Moderates also welcome this approach.
Opposition Conservative Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson similarly proposed tough measures on gang violence and crime in general.
The latest polls show that the Social Democrats are leading with 30%, with the far-right Sweden Democrats trailing at 20%. Moderates stand at 17%.
Gang violence a focus
In this year’s election campaign, a dominant issue was gang violence that has led to “hundreds of shootings and explosions in recent years as gangs fight among themselves,” said Crouch.
The Social Democrats have promised to introduce harsher prison sentences and to increase the police force drastically to tackle the issue.
Bo Andersson thinks that immigration and the lack of integration is the reason for the gang violence that the country is facing.
Anders Sannerstedt, a political science professor at Lund University, said the country has a “growing problem with criminal gangs in the big cities and we have a lot of shootings each day.”
This, he said, caused politicians to call for tougher measures and prison sentences in this year's election.
Left party politician Linda Snecker said in this year’s election campaigning there is “terrible racism. Islam is blamed as “the great evil in society,” she added.
She has also accused some political parties on Thursday of wanting to forcibly take children who do not speak perfect Swedish into custody.
“We have parties that forcibly take your 2-year-olds into custody if they don’t speak perfect Swedish,” Snecker said.
The Liberal party leader Johan Pehrson justified the proposal on Twitter saying that “language preschools must be offered to the children” who are lagging behind.
However, Snecker said, “this is a policy that constantly paints certain groups of people as a problem, instead of trying to solve social problems.”
Sweden Democrats' Nazi roots
Sweden Democrats spokesperson on criminal justice issues Tobias Anderson was heavily criticized after tweeting the party’s campaign ad on the subway where he wrote: “Welcome to the repatriation train. You have a one-way ticket. Next stop, Kabul.”
Prime Minister Andersson reacted by saying that she is worried about the far-right’s party’s “deep roots in the Swedish neo-Nazis and other racist organizations.”
Several Sweden Democrats top contenders for this year's election resigned this week after being exposed by the anti-racist magazine Expo and another media outlet Expressen for making racist comments and for having links to Nazi-led organizations.
For instance, a local Sweden Democrats politician, Bjorn Halldin, was exposed for saying that he wants to exterminate Muslims and “blackheads.”
Another politician verbally attacked refugees in 2018 in a forum saying: “You burn, rape, murder, plunder, steal, subsidy, cheaters, and you hate our country.”
Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, claims that the party has distanced itself from racist roots and that the party “is different from what it was 30 years ago.”
However, this year's election has proved otherwise as critics say that the party is still deeply racist and linked to the Nazi ideology.
Crouch believes that even if the Sweden Democrats do not get a large vote in this year’s election it could be said that “they will be the main winners of this election in any case because they have changed attitudes toward immigration and asylum.”