Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Voters in Sweden appear split amid immigration debate

AFP and AP, STOCKHOLM

People yesterday fill out their ballots at a polling station in Stockholm, Sweden.

Photo: Reuters

Swedes yesterday voted in legislative elections, with a far-right surge expected if voters punish traditional parties over their failure to address immigration concerns.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, a Social Democrat, has called the election a “referendum on the future of the welfare state” but the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) have presented it as vote on immigrants and their integration, after Sweden took in almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012.

The election is the first since the government in 2015 allowed 163,000 migrants into the country of 10 million. While far less than what Germany took in that year, it was the most per capita of any European nation.

About 7.5 million registered voters were choosing from almost 6,300 candidates for a four-year term in the 349-seat Riksdag, or parliament.

It is highly unlikely that any single party would get a majority, or 175 seats.

The latest opinion poll conducted by pollster Novus for public broadcaster Sveriges Television AB on Friday suggested that Lofven’s Social Democrats would substantially lose seats, but still emerge as the party with the most votes, with an estimated 24.9 percent of the ballots.

If realized, it would be a historical low for the traditional left-wing party, which has dominated Swedish politics in the post-World War II era.

The poll showed that Sweden Democrats — led by Jimmie Akesson — would get 19.1 percent of the votes in what would be a major increase over the 13 percent it received in 2014.

The center-right Moderate Party is set to take to take third place with 17.7 percent.

With a steady rise in popularity of the Sweden Democrats, immigration has become the hot topic of the election.

The party, rooted in a neo-Nazi movement, has worked to soften its image and has played a role in breaking down longstanding taboos on what Swedes could say openly about immigration and integration without being shunned as racists.

“Terrible! I just wanna cry when I think about it,” Veronica Lundqvist said, referring to the Sweden Democrats after she left a voting booth in Stockholm.

“They say awful things. I mean of course we have a lot of refugees here, but we need to take care of them,” she said. “They come from a terrible place, terrible wars. We can’t just throw them out.”

However, others say the Sweden Democrats are trying to fix a historical problem.

“It’s an integration issue,” Karl Ljung said at the same voting station. “It’s not just about what happened two years ago when we had a lot of refugees... So we really have to solve it now.”

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