Sweden is stuck in a political stalemate: none of the country's biggest parties achieved an overall parliamentary majority in recent general elections. The kingmaker may turn out to be the Sweden Democrats Party, which won 20 seats in the legislature after campaigning on a pledge to reduce immigration to the country by 90%. The surprise outcome suggests that Muslim immigration, long a taboo issue for Sweden's politically correct mainstream parties, may end up receiving far more scrutiny in the future.
The September 19 vote left Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's incumbent four-party liberal-conservative Alliance coalition with 172 seats, three seats short of a majority in the 349-seat Riksdag. At the same time, the leftwing opposition – in which the Green Party and the Left Party joined the dominant Social Democrats – won just 154 seats. The Social Democrats took just 30.9% of the overall vote, their worst showing since 1914.
The balance of power now lies with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, the only party to oppose the radically liberal immigration policy that the seven other parties support. Reinfeldt's Alliance and the Social Democratic-led opposition both say they will co-operate with each other rather than the Sweden Democrats, which blames immigrants for the disintegration of the country's cherished cradle-to-grave welfare system. But the two big blocs are at odds over a wide range of economic and social policies, making their long-term cooperation unlikely. If the impasse cannot be broken, the Sweden Democrats, which says it "would talk to everybody," could end up tipping the scales in the direction of Reinfeldt's coalition and give him the stability he needs to push through sought-after reforms.
(In other Scandinavian countries, anti-immigrant parties have been gaining in clout over the past decade. In Denmark, for example, the Danish People's Party won 13.9% in the 2007 elections, making it the third-largest party. Since 2001, it has supported the government in exchange for a stricter immigration policy. In Norway, the Progress Party became the second-largest group with 22.9% of the vote in elections in 2009.
For the moment, however, the Sweden Democrats, which drew votes from across the political spectrum, are being stigmatized by Sweden's politically correct political and media establishment, who accuse the party of being "racist" and "xenophobic." During the election campaign, for instance, the Sweden Democrats were not allowed to participate in the televised party debates, and their election advertisement was banned by TV4. One day after the election, left-wing Swedes poured into the streets in what organizers called a "sorrow" march to protest the entry of the Sweden Democrats into parliament for the first time.
The mainstream parties are now trying to reduce the number of lawmakers in parliamentary committees in an effort to deprive the Sweden Democrats of voting rights. But changing parliamentary rules in such a barefaced attempt to circumvent the democratic process may backfire and motivate even more people to vote for the Sweden Democrats. Nearly 60% of Swedes believe the Sweden Democrats should be treated just like the other parties in parliament, according to a September 20 poll by the Stockholm-based Skop.
Ironically, the refusal of Sweden's mainstream parties to face up to the problem of mass immigration, especially from Muslim countries, is directly responsible for rise of the Sweden Democrats. Most of those voting for the Sweden Democrats are ordinary Swedes -- not far right radicals -- who are protesting the government's negligence in the area of immigration policy, which has turned entire neighborhoods into no-go zones for native Swedes.
During the last several decades, massive immigration-flows to Sweden have transformed the country to the point where immigrants, many of whom refuse to learn Swedish and integrate into Swedish society, now make up almost 20% of the country's total population.
Of the 9.4 million Swedes, roughly 1.5 million are foreign-born. In addition, there are an estimated 1 million children of immigrants, 100,000 illegal immigrants, and 50,000 more asylum-seekers awaiting clearance. Further, about 100,000 additional immigrants enter the country each year.
In Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city, almost 40% of the population is foreign; and some immigrant neighborhoods in the city have unemployment rates exceeding 60%. In Malmö's mostly Muslim Rosengard neighborhood, fire and emergency workers refuse to enter without police protection. An immigrant-fuelled crime wave affects one of every three Malmö families each year, while the number of rapes has tripled in 20 years.
Highlighting the increasing assertiveness of Sweden's Muslim community, the Muslim Council of Sweden recently dispatched letters to each of the major political parties in Sweden demanding special legislation for Muslims in Sweden. The demands included: the right to specific Islamic holidays; special public financing for the building of mosques; a demand that all divorces between Muslim couples be approved by an Imam; and that Imams should be allowed to teach Islam to Muslim children in public schools.
Germany's center-right Die Welt newspaper put it this way: "Things aren't going so well for the progressive camp in Europe. Now, even the Swedes don't want to be social democratic anymore. ... When not even the solid welfare state Sweden can stunt the growth of a protest party like the Sweden Democrats, the problems must be big. Anyone who knows their way around the multiethnic city of Mälmo, knows what the issue is. In Sweden, too, established parties have ignored or played down the conflicts for too long."
Swedish voters are demanding change, and are looking to the Sweden Democrats for solutions. Until Sweden's mainstream parties begin facing up the problem of Muslim immigration, the popularity of the Sweden Democrats is likely to grow. Again ironically, the prospect that the Sweden Democrats might gain more influence may even spur the mainstream parties into action.