Swedes Concerned Over Rise Of Anti-Immigration Party In Local Elections

Swedes concerned over rise of anti-immigration party in local elections
The Associated Press

Published: September 20, 2006

STOCKHOLM, Sweden A small anti-immigration party doubled its support in Sweden's elections and won dozens of seats on local councils but failed to break the 4 percent barrier to enter Parliament, official results showed Wednesday.

The rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats has raised concerns that the anti-immigration tide seen in much of Europe has spilled over into Sweden, where about 12 percent of residents are foreign-born.

With 97 percent of votes counted in the final tally, results showed the party made strong gains in southern Sweden in Sunday's elections, winning up to 20 percent support in some cities where many residents blame immigrants for a rise in crime.

On a national level, the party won 2.95 percent, just short of the parliamentary threshold, but twice the support it had in 2002 and enough to qualify for state financial support.

Analysts said the incoming center-right government must make integration of immigrants a key issue to prevent the Sweden Democrats from growing further in the next election.

“The outsidership in the suburbs is a social bomb,” Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter wrote in an editorial Wednesday. “It can explode in the Swedish Parliament after the 2010 election if nothing is done now.”

Once an ethnically homogenous nation, Sweden has become more diverse with immigration following World War II. The biggest groups of recent arrivals come from the Balkans, Iraq and former Soviet republics.

The Sweden Democrats blame mass immigration for many of the country's social problems and want sharp cuts in immigration and stronger demands on immigrants to adapt to Swedish society.

The party, rooted in an extreme-right movement in the 1980s, has cleaned its ranks of openly racist members. It changed its party symbol this year from a flame burning yellow and blue the colors of the Swedish flag to a blue anemone.

Nevertheless, the party has been largely ignored by Sweden's media and political establishment, amid fears that any publicity would give the party more supporters.

“We have our own channels to reach the voters,” party leader Jimmie Akesson said. “Because of the media silence we've built a strong network of pamphlet distribution where we can reach half of all households in the country.”

He predicted the party would continue to grow toward the heights of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which has about 15 percent support in Denmark. Other strong anti-immigration parties include France's National Front and the Flemish Interest Party in Belgium.

Many analysts still consider the Sweden Democrats too extreme for the average Swedish voter, but others say it's a matter of time before their success in southern Sweden is replicated across the country.

The Moderate Party, the biggest faction in the center-right alliance taking office next month, said it would change its strategy of excluding Sweden Democrats from political debates and instead challenge their views head-on. Moderate Party secretary Sven Otto Littorin ruled out cooperating with the party on any level.

“We don't share their views on humanity and we don't like their politics,” he said.