Mon, Sep 15, 2014 - Page 6 News List

The dapper head of Sweden’s far right

AFP, STOCKHOLM

Jimmie Aakesson has lifted Sweden’s far-right party from obscurity to an emerging parliamentary force, with the dapper 35-year-old seeking to position himself as a kinder, gentler sort of anti-immigration leader. The head of the Sweden Democrats may not be Stockholm’s most accomplished speaker, but in public he is always perfectly dressed, with a hint of intellectual refinement projected by a discreet pair of glasses.

His image as an archetypal cultivated Swede helps explain how he has persuaded many in a nation famous for a welcoming attitude toward foreigners that his policies are not racist, just very pro-Sweden.

Yet the party’s anti-immigration line is exactly the main reason for a startling rise in less than a decade.

When he was picked as the leader of the party in 2005, Aakesson was a compromise candidate and few would have predicted that what was then a fringe party had any chances in parliament.

In elections for national legislature the Riksdagen in 2010, he passed this test with flying colors, the party garnering 5.7 percent of the votes and 20 out of 349 seats in parliament.

These figures could double after yesterday’s polling, putting a spoke in the wheels of the likely overall winner, Social Democrat leader Stefan Loefven, as it could make it harder for him to get laws passed.

Aakesson recently told reporters that he was not planning to be in constant, systematic opposition in parliament, but would look at the merits of each case.

“We can support proposals from both sides. For example, if the Social Democrats win, we can absolutely contribute to a majority to strengthen unemployment insurance,” he said during a campaign stop.

If his party remains excluded from deals in parliament — as it has over the past four years — Aakesson believes he has time on his side.

So far the young politician has kept a deliberately low profile in parliament, hoping to grow the number of legislative seats before starting to leave a footprint on the government’s policies.

He has also been busy cleansing the party of members violating his stated policy of “zero tolerance” on racism introduced in 2012.

While one searches in vain for any history of Islamophobic, anti-Semitic or xenophobic remarks attributed to Aakesson, other party members have offered such views under pseudonyms on the Internet and sometimes in public.

Aakesson has expelled such members without hesitation and has appeared in a campaign video alongside two Swedish immigrants, including a young Asian woman, who says: “Dare to defy racism!”

He has also praised French politician Marine Le Pen, whom he met for the first time last year, for her ability to rid the Front National of its most extreme elements.

If he has any weak spot, it could be gambling. On Friday, Swedish public radio station SR revealed that this year alone, he had gambled for more than 50,000 euros in online casinos.

When questioned about the report, he said he had no gambling debt, had done nothing illegal and that the story was an “entirely private matter.”

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