Having followed the debate on welfare and economic policy prior to the Swedish parliamentary election, the arguments from both the ruling center-right alliance as well as the left-of-center opposition seemed convincing enough to be considered for the next political leaders of the country. The opinion polls were predicting a tight outcome in slight favor of the ruling coalition. On Sunday the votes were counted and the results surprised everybody: 2010 ended up being a historic election with no clear winners, but only one big setback. Even though the ruling alliance got a renewed mandate as the largest coalition, it failed to get the majority of the seats in the parliament. The leading opposition party, the Social Democrats, preserved its status as the largest party in the country, but thanks to the strong alliance formed by the center-right coalition, it will be unable to take over the country’s political leadership. The real winner of the election, however, was the anti-immigrant ultra-right wing party Sweden Democrats. The party got 5.7 percent of the votes that guarantees it the swing vote in the parliament making both the established party coalitions dependent on their support. Even though all established parties have categorically stated that they will not seek support from the Sweden Democrats, their passive support will be required for any majority decision.
How could this happen? Why did we not see it coming? And in Sweden in all countries with liberal immigration policies and advanced legislation for integration? In hindsight, the surprise was mainly due to the denial of the importance and possible consequences of growing dissatisfaction in the failures in the implementation of integration policies combined with the economic recession that needed scapegoats. The trend towards increasing popularity of anti-immigration parties is on the rise in Europe at large (see Reuters) and Sweden is only the latest addition to a long list already including Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Switzerland. The polls failed to predict the extent of the support for the ultra-right wing as it is not politically correct to publicly criticize immigration in Sweden leading some voters to secretly vote for Sweden Democrats. It is unclear to me what is worse: the actual act of voting for an anti-immigration party, or lying about doing so when asked? Time will tell whether the success of the anti-immigrant sentiments will continue to spread or fade once the Swedish Democrats will be subject to the tediousness of the of every-day political decision-making machinery. Still, the fact remains that the political scenery in Sweden has changed once and for all. The political debate switched from the economic recession and the welfare state into migration literally over night. Maybe the upcoming political discussion will provide more facts to counteract anti-immigrant propaganda (that has so far been considered rather harmless), and direct well-deserved focus on improving the integration policies in Sweden. Either way, we have only seen the beginning of a new era in the Swedish political scenery.