Sweden’s Election: Right-Wing Democrats On the Move to Win

Sweden’s right-wing Democrats are poised to become part of the government coalition following their election sweep that came as a shock to some.

On Sunday, Sweden held nationwide elections for its legislature, the Riksdag.
With more than 95% of the vote counted, a winner has not yet been declared.
Exit polls Sunday night initially indicated victory for the Social Democrats’ center-left coalition, which has been in power since 2014.

But as vote-counting progressed, the right-wing bloc consisting of the Liberals, Christian Democrats, Moderates and Sweden Democrats now seems on track to win, currently with 49.7% of the vote.

While final results aren’t expected before Wednesday, Social Democrats have so far received the largest percentage of votes, 30.5%. But currently, the Sweden Democrats are the second-strongest party, gaining 20.6% of the vote in their best-ever election performance. That makes them the biggest party on the right, in front of the Moderates who came as a close third with 19.1%.
The cliffhanger election is not expected to be resolved until all postal and absentee ballots are counted.

Founded in 1988, the Sweden Democrats unified various elements in Sweden’s far-right milieu, including fascists and white power proponents.

“Some of them also had ties to openly neo-Nazi movements,” said Johan Martinsson, a political science professor at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

In 2005, current party leader Jimmie Akesson came to head the group. Only 26 at the time, the former member of the Moderate party pushed the Sweden Democrat’s image away from its far-right roots, taking it in more of a populist direction.

Paralleling other right-populist movements, the party sought to portray itself as “advocating for ‘ordinary people’ against a corrupt elite at the height of a global recession,” wrote scholar Danielle Lee Tomson in a paper on the rise of the Sweden Democrats.

“The main reason for the party’s success in the last decade has been Sweden’s uniquely high number of asylum-seekers and unusually rapidly changing demographics in terms of ethnicity and the share of foreign-born citizens,” he told DW in an interview from Gothenburg.

The party more than doubled its position in the 2014 election, gaining around 13% of votes. In 2018, that share became 18%.

When the center-right Moderates agreed to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats in 2019, this set the stage for eventual entrance to governing.

“It is surprising for me to see them as the second-biggest party in the elections,” Kenes told DW, as the Sweden Democrats had lost ground during the pandemic as voters turned more toward established parties.
Speaking from Stockholm, he said that aside from the immigration issue, the economic effects of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have played a part in boosting the party’s popularity, particularly among the working class.