The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have gained ground in a recent poll, pulling almost even with the ruling Social Democrats, ahead of an election in September. Similar parties have won recent elections in Slovenia and Italy.
The poll, conducted for Sweden’s Expressen newspaper and published Monday, has put the Sweden Democrats in second place, with 21 percent of the vote, the highest score in the party’s history. The liberal Social Democrats, currently in a coalition government with the Green Party, are still in first place but polling at 23.1 percent.
The surge in popularity for Sweden Democrats is attributed to voters leaving Social Democrats for other left-wing parties, but also to the country’s open-door migration policy, which has been accompanied by a crime wave.
Gang-related gun murders –overwhelmingly carried out by men with migrant backgrounds– have surged from around four per-year in the early 1990s to 40 last year. Rapes and anti-Semitic attacks by Muslim immigrants have also surged. Grenade attacks were up 550 percent last year from three years prior.
Just last week, Rakmat Akilov, an asylum seeker from Uzbekistan, was given a life sentence for a truck attack last year. Akilov plowed a truck down a busy shopping street in Stockholm last April, killing five people and injuring almost a dozen others. Among the dead was an 11-year-old girl. He said he acted on behalf of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“I often use Sweden as a deterring example,” Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Swedish television in January, warning about the dangers of unchecked immigration.
In April, a poll by Demoskop revealed that immigration is the top issue for Swedish voters ahead of the election. Law and order is the third most important issue, while integration comes in fourth. On immigration and integration, voters have the most confidence in the Sweden Democrats party.
The Social Democrats party seems to be be focusing on other issues, however. On Monday, Stockholm’s city council voted to ban ‘sexist’ advertising in public spaces, including ads that “show a stereotypical image of gender roles.” The council is run by the Social Democrats and Moderate Unity Party, described as “liberal conservatives.”
The Sweden Democrats’ rise appears to be tracking the broader swing in support towards parties critical of immigration across the European Union. Italy got a Eurosceptic government at the end of May, which immediately took a tough line on immigration. Over the past weekend, the Italian navy turned back a French ship that rescued 629 migrants in the Mediterranean, criticizing the EU leadership in Brussels for leaving Italy to bear the brunt of Europe’s migrant problem “all by itself.”
Last week, Slovenia’s anti-immigrant SDS-EPP party won the general election there, with 28 percent of the vote. The SDS-EPP has promised to lock down the Slovenian border and ban the wearing of the burqa in public. They have received open support from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a long-time crusader against immigration and the Brussels establishment.
The Sweden Democrats still face an uphill battle to get into government. Sweden’s establishment parties have long refused to enter into coalition with them. Electoral math still favors a loose alliance of centrist parties, currently polling 38.5 percent, while a leftist coalition around the Social Democrats is polling at 36.2 percent.
“The important thing for us is to get as much of our policy through as possible, and then it does not matter who we get it through with,” said party leader Richard Jomshof. “Anything is possible.”
Immigration is the most pressing issue facing Sweden, according to a poll conducted ahead of September’s election. The poll’s findings suggest there is growing concern over Stockholm’s open-door migrant policy.
Some 20 percent of Swedes listed immigration as the main issue ahead of the country’s elections, followed by healthcare (19 percent), law and order (12 percent) and integration (10 percent).
Since refugees started pouring into Europe in 2015, Sweden has welcomed more asylum seekers than any other European country in relation to its population. Nearly 163,000 people sought asylum in Sweden at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, according to the national migration agency. Sweden’s finance minister said in December that the influx of migrants had put a tremendous financial and social strain on the country.
“Integration is not working properly. It didn’t work before the autumn of 2015 either, but for me it is obvious that we cannot have a larger asylum reception than we are able to integrate,” Magdalena Andersson told the Dagens Nyheter.
As a result of the country’s controversial open-door migrant policy, Swedish politicians have found themselves battling to win the support of a growing number of anti-immigration voters.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats announced in January that it would court 350,000 undecided voters wavering between them and the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats with the slogan of “Better welfare, law and order, and faster integration.”
“There is a desire among voters for someone to take control over the way society is developing,” John Zanchi, the party’s election chief, said after unveiling the new strategy.
Restrictions imposed after the initial wave of refugees in 2015 resulted in less than 30,000 people coming to Sweden the following year, with even smaller numbers in 2017.
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