Sweden’s far-right populists won their biggest ever share of the vote in Sunday’s general elections, underlining how immigration has reshaped politics even in one of Europe’s most tolerant democracies.
Although the Sweden Democrats largely set the agenda during the campaign, the far-right party made more modest gains than once feared, coming in third behind the two mainstream parties who are now scrambling to form the next government.
But while the populists may consider their 17.6 percent disappointing, after earlier polls had predicted they would finish in at least second place, analysts say the nationalist surge represents an alarming change in Sweden’s political landscape.
The populist party still won their largest ever share of the vote – up from 12.9 percent in 2014 – and successfully shifted both mainstream parties closer to their position on key issues of immigration, integration and identity.
“The mainstream has certainly moved closer to their positions,” Matthew Goodwin, visiting senior fellow in the Europe programme at the Chatham House think tank told VICE News.
Both the governing center-left Social Democrats and the center-right Moderates recorded among their worst results in modern history, with the rival blocs led by both parties left in virtually a dead heat.
With nearly all votes counted Monday, the Social Democrats, together with their allies the Greens and the Left Party, had won 40.6 percent of the vote, while the opposition centre-right Alliance was on 40.3 percent. With overseas votes yet to be counted, the center-left bloc holds 144 seats, and the center-right 143.
The country now faces weeks of uncertainty as both blocs engage in frantic horse-trading to try to form the next government.
Both of the main blocs have said they will not work with the Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in fascism and neo-Nazism, as part of a tactic to isolate the group and its populist politics.
The far-right party commanded strong polling numbers during the campaign as it hammered home its core issues of immigration, crime and integration to a voting public anxious over the arrival of 163,000 asylum seekers during the height of the migration crisis.
But after surging to first-equal in polls in mid-July, support for the populists slackened in recent weeks, as other issues gained attention — including climate change, following a summer of record high temperatures and raging wildfires.
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