The preliminary election results are in: the center-right alliance led by the Moderates and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt are still the ruling party but did not win enough votes to have a majority in parliament. Now they will be on razor wire for each vote, wondering if the new party in parliament _ which has been the real story of this election _ will vote for their alliance or the opposition led by the Social Democrats.
Newspapers the world over are paying cursory attention to the two main parties in the election. The majority of attention _ and public rancor _ is targeted at the Swedish Democrats (SD), an anti-immigrant party with skinhead roots, which got more than four percent of the votes required to secure seats in parliament (5.7) _ the first time in the party’s history.
Both the ruling and the opposition alliances have flatly refused to work with SD. They were not invited to participate in debates before the election. And 6,000 people gathered in central Stockholm today to protest their election to parliament.
The hatred for the nationalist SD lies in their anti-immigrant stance that has targeted Muslims in particular. They have called Islam the biggest foreign threat to Sweden since World War II, an opinion that does not sit well with the majority in this traditionally tolerant country. But with immigrants making up 14 percent of the population, the party has obviously touched a nerve in their voting block, which is made up of mostly young, unemployed, uneducated men in the rural south of Sweden.
I sat here last night with a group of educated, young Swedes and watched their faces fall and their spirits tumble as they watched the election results roll in. Their disappointment that the Moderate alliance lost the majority in parliament did not compare with their spitting contempt for SD’s election haul. The dissatisfaction was mostly aimed at voters; they felt that those who voted for SD were ignorant and it was irresponsible to vote for a party that will jeopardize the democratic process (they say that SD are likely to vote on anti-immigration policy but for every other vote for which their policies aren’t clear, the party will vote in the way that will give them the most publicity).
Last night was a crash course for me in Swedish politics. It is a system that is so unlike ours in the U.S. in that it is actually democratic. That is only meant to be a light dig at my homeland; the truth is that Swedish politicians aren’t power hungry and often put the best interests of the party and the country ahead of their own ambitions. I also saw an integrity in the political system that would shock me if it were done in America; both major alliances flatly refused to work with SD despite the fact that SD’s support would give either group a majority in parliament, which neither holds now.
I tend to wax lyrical about Sweden in a lot of ways; it is a refreshing example of a successful welfare state that is an excellent model to other countries, and has secured comfortable and happy lives for its citizens. But the election of a party so threatened by immigration and so abhorrent in its rhetoric about Muslims is an indication of a subtle yet powerful and growing movement in Sweden. It is one that has the potential to divide this country and tear down some of its most proud traits: tolerance and acceptance.