A surge in gang violence has stirred anti-immigration sentiment before an election in Sweden, putting a far-right party on course for big gains in one of Europe’s most liberal countries.
Dozens of people have been killed in the past two years in attacks in the capital Stockholm and other big cities by gangs that are mostly from run-down suburbs dominated by immigrants.
In the latest bloodshed, three men were shot dead and three were wounded outside an internet cafe in the city of Malmo on June 18. A fourth man was shot dead days later and another man survived because he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
With public calls growing for tougher policies on crime and immigration, support has risen for the Sweden Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi roots that wants to freeze immigration and to hold a referendum on Sweden’s membership of the European Union.
Their worried mainstream rivals have started moving to the right on crime and immigration to try to counter the Sweden Democrats’ threat in the Sept. 9 election. But so far, they are playing into the hands of the far-right.
“Right now they (mainstream parties) are competing over who can set out the most restrictive policies,” said Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin, whose Green Party is part of a minority government led by the Social Democratic Party.
“It clearly benefits the Sweden Democrats.”
Opinion polls put the Sweden Democrats on about 20 percent support, up from the 13 percent of votes they secured in the 2014 election and the 5.7 percent which saw them enter parliament for the first time in 2010.
The Sweden Democrats’ rise on the back of anti-immigration sentiment mirrors gains for right-wing, populist and anti-establishment parties in other European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.
Immigration has risen back up the political agenda since far-right parties entered coalition governments in Austria and Italy, and will be discussed at a summit in Brussels this week.
Though the Sweden Democrats are unlikely to win power, the growing popularity for a party opposed to the EU is a concern for Brussels although Swedes broadly support EU membership, polls show. (Reuters)