Saturday

30th Apr 2016

Focus

Immigration not a topic for Swedish mainstream parties

  • No indication in the polls that the Swedish Pirate party will remain in the European Parliament (Photo: Didier Misson)

When Jimmie Akesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), turned up in March at the Norrland University Hospital, a doctor barred the way to the section for the elderly that Akesson intended to visit.

"Your presence here upsets the staff as well as the patients. I cannot let you in," the doctor explained and Akesson had to leave.

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The hospital was part of a tour of work places in Sweden by Akesson, following the example of the Swedish Prime Minister who has been doing such tours for a couple of years in order to meet "real people".

But Akesson has been less welcome. Before his arrival in the emergency rooms of a hospital in the city of Malmoe for a similar visit in April, 250 of the staff protested and wore pins with the text "Staff against racism" on their uniforms. At a nearby fire station, next on the list for a SD visit that morning, many fire fighters had chosen to work outdoors.

The Volvo factory of Umea wrote beforehand to the SD leader and explained that he would not be received. The nation-wide organisation "Folkets Hus" (Community centres) has also let the party know it is not welcome.

The debate is ongoing as to whether it is undemocratic to refuse a visit from Akesson on account of his anti-immigration views.

Meanwhile, there is also a debate on whether the Sweden Democrats stand to gain or lose from the cold reception they receive. Akesson is used to being met with demonstrations wherever he goes in Sweden but so far he has been able to dismiss this as "left extremists".

"I believe that this, in the short run, will win us more sympathy", he said after his visit to Malmoe.

But some, such as sociologist Ulf Bjereld of the University of Gothenburg, point out that the resistance to his presence is coming from working people, which are the very same people that the Sweden Democrats claim to be speaking for in politics. This makes the resistance harder to ignore.

Also, it runs counter to Akesson's aim for the party to eventually be accepted as a "normal" party in Swedish politics.

Since February, when its tour started, the Sweden Democrats seem to be slipping in popularity. From 9.5 percent in February, the party now stands at 8.2 percent.

No other Swedish political party has so far opted to use anti-immigration rhetoric. During a TV debate on 5 May, when the topic of Romanian beggars in Swedish streets was raised by journalists, all party leaders – except Akesson – were agreed that poverty must be tackled, not poor people. Free movement, they all declared, is a good thing.

With only 20 days to go to the European elections, there was very little said on European issues in the party leader debate. Instead politicians took the opportunity to campaign ahead of the parliament elections in September, where the main issues are jobs, whether to raise taxes, and how to improve school results.

Left-wing parties seem to be gaining: polls

The parties in Sweden gaining in the polls currently are to be found on the left of the political spectrum. The Left Party (ex-Communists) is up 1 percentage point, at 8.6 percent, giving it potentially 2 seats in the EP.

Overall, the Swedish Social Democrats seem secure in their lead with 32.9 percent (and a predicted 6 seats in the EP) whereas the governing Moderate Party stands at 24.3 percent and is not moving.

Yet another poll shows a fast moving Feminist Initiative at 3.2 percent of the votes. With no seat in the European or the national parliament, the party, led by former leader of the Left Party, Gudrun Schyman, needs to reach the vital threshold of 4 percent to gain a mandate from the election.

This latest poll, which is quite small and therefore less representative, indicates a record high for the Greens (with 16 percent) and a sharp decline for the Sweden Democrats (with 4.1 percent, near the threshold).

So far, there is no indication in the polls that the Swedish Pirate party will remain in the European Parliament.

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