Sweden’s Far Right has made history. Is that the future of the country?

The final results of the Swedish elections made history on Wednesday: The Swedish Democratic Party, an anti-immigrant far-right party with a recent history of openly Nazi ideology, won the result. best ever. With 20.6% of the vote, the party came in second in Sweden’s multi-party system, beating all the more mainstream right-wing parties.

There are two ways to think about this. The first is something new and unusual: focusing on the party’s unprecedented success and what it signals about a changing Sweden.

But the other way to look at it, it is the latest example of a pattern that has become common across Europe: far-right parties gain the majority of the vote, if not actual power. (It is still possible in Sweden, where although a bloc of right-wing parties together won a majority of seats in parliament, the more mainstream among them is expected to form a government that will not be entrenched.) no Swedish Democrats).

The Swedish Democrats won 3% more votes than their previous record of 17.5% in the 2018 election, continuing a steady growth trajectory since first entering the country. association in 2010.

This would attract attention in any country, but especially in Sweden, a country known for its egalitarian social democracy.

“Compared to other countries in Europe, when we look at cross-country surveys, Sweden consistently shows the highest or highest acceptance rates of diversity – such as immigration support, support asylum claims,” says Jennifer Fitzgerald, a political scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who studies the far right of Sweden. “For many years, when other countries were experiencing development on the far right, Sweden was not. And so I thought maybe there was an expectation that there would be an exception there. “

Now obviously there isn’t.

Sirus Hafstrom Dehdari, a political scientist at Stockholm University who studies political identity and the radical right, said:

The 2008 financial crisis gave the party a boost: Dehdari’s research found that every job loss caused by the crisis translates into half a vote for the Swedish Democratic Party. Changing demographics could be another factor: 20 years ago, about 10% of the Swedish population was foreign-born. Now that number is like 20 percent. Recently, media coverage of an increase in gang-related homicides, many of which occurs in immigrant communities, has linked immigration to crime in the public perception of crime. they.

But while there are many roads leading to the right, once there, its voters have proved remarkably loyal, Dehdari said. People may have started voting for the Swedish Democratic Party after the financial crisis, but they “didn’t go back to mainstream parties after getting a new job,” he said. A similar pattern is also possible for more recent events, such as an increase in crime, but it is too early to say for sure.

Sweden is just the latest European democracy with the far-right often able to command electoral support, joining a list that includes France, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Estonia and other countries. other.

“In a lot of European countries, it looks like they go up to 20% and then go to the ceiling,” Dehdari said. “It takes some pretty big changes in society for them to grow a lot beyond 20 or 22 percent.”

Twenty is a lot less than 50: such a party cannot expect to win an outright majority anytime soon. But 20% is enough to be a major partner in the coalition – making far-right votes increasingly attractive to other parties seeking to form a government.

So the most important political question for Sweden is not how many votes the far-right can get, but how the rest of the political system will react to the growing popularity of Sweden. its increase.

So far, Sweden’s mainstream parties maintain a so-called “nervous hygiene base”, agreeing that they will shut down executive coalitions and government posts. It is a strategy that has been used in other European countries, such as France, Germany and Greece, to keep the right from losing power.

But such treaties can be difficult to maintain, especially for mainstream right-wing parties, which often have to choose between entering into agenda-diluting coalitions with centre-left parties, or stayed in the opposition because they refused to engage with the far right. Sometimes ambition beats determination: In Germany in 2020, two mainstream parties broke defenses to form a short-lived far-right coalition in the state of Thuringia, sparking political backlash and local government crisis.

And even if mainstream parties maintain red lines against far-right parties, that doesn’t necessarily equal a blockade on the far-right. policy. In many countries, far-right parties have adopted a hardline stance against immigrants and refugees in an attempt to win back votes from rebel far-right parties.

However, that strategy backfired in Sweden, Dehdari said, because validating the policies of far-right parties tends to reduce the stigma of voting for them. “Why didn’t the voters come back?” he say. “Well, that’s because why vote for the copy when you can vote for the original?”

In several other countries, including Italy, Austria and Sweden’s neighbor Finland, far-right parties have been allowed to form governing coalitions. “Across the countries that have crossed that line and where far-right parties have become members of governing coalitions, it seems to bring a certain degree of legitimacy to those parties,” Fitzgerald said.

In contrast, far-right parties themselves can sometimes pay a heavy price for that kind of access to government, Dehdari said. In Finland, the far-right party then known as True Finns experienced a bitter internal split after clashing with coalition partners over the election of a new, more radical party leader.

In Sweden, as the final election results are underway, cord cleaning seems to be holding up. But as right-wing parties try to assemble a coalition with razor-thin margins, they will face decisions about whether to allow the Swedish Democrats to be part of the EU’s voting coalition. government or not – even if the party does not officially become a coalition member with the post cabinet – or to keep them altogether.

But the bigger picture, Fitzgerald said, is not just about the treatment of the far-right by far-right parties, but the health of the entire political system. She noted that early reports showed unusually low turnout in this election, a sign of broader voter discontent. (Something similar happened in the French presidential election last Aprillow voter turnout, as well as record abstentions and abstentions.)

“I just thought, ‘Amanda is going to call and I’m going to tell her something really boring about going to the polls,’ ‘ she joked during our conversation. “But to me, that should absolutely be part of the story here.”

Research, including her own, has made clear on that point, she said: “Far-right parties perform better when turnout is low.” That means the real question may not be what Sweden’s mainstream parties can do about the far right, but whether they can convince their voters to show up to stop them.

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