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Far-Right Party Makes Gains In Sunday's Election In Sweden


Nationalist, anti-immigrant political parties have been making inroads in elections across Europe. It has happened again. This time, in Sweden. The ruling center-left Socialist Democrats seem to have just barely beat out a party with a very similar name and a very different message, the Sweden Democrats, who have neo-Nazi roots. BBC reporter Maddy Savage is based in Stockholm and joins us now. Maddy, just first off, how close exactly was this election?

MADDY SAVAGE: Well, polls suggested this was going to be one of the tightest elections in history here in Sweden. And the takeaway from the knife-edge vote is that, yes, very close, and a very divided country. The nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, the party everyone was talking about, they did make historic gains.

They scored about 18 percent of the vote, up from 13 percent in the last election, as many voters took a stand against recent record immigration to the country, a strain on social services that some have linked to that, and rising numbers of shootings in areas with high immigrant populations. But it's worth noting the party didn't do as well as it hoped or get enough votes to make it the second-largest party. Meanwhile, though, the mainstream center-left and center-right blocs both experienced losses, and they've ended up in a deadlock with neither able to form a majority government.

MARTIN: And we'll talk about the implications of that. But first can you explain more about what's led to the rise of this particular party? You mentioned immigration, which is at play across Europe. Is that really what has been driving all of the voters towards this particular party?

SAVAGE: Yeah. The Sweden Democrats are a nationalist party. And although they have sought to develop other issues as part of their campaign, immigration is their key message. Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country at the height of the refugee crisis, 163,000 in just one year, in 2015. All of the parties became tougher on immigration after that, including the center-left government because they said it was putting a strain on services.

But it's really been the Sweden Democrats that have been able to own the issue of immigration and really push that agenda through. They've targeted a lot of lower-income voters, especially in rural areas, people that feel disenfranchised and separated from the political establishment. They've got a very charismatic leader. But the mainstream parties, as I say, also starting to have a tougher line on immigration but not really being able to own that issue and not really being able to push forward other issues in their agenda such as health care, climate, the economy. A lot of those issues played a much smaller role in this campaign than they would usually.

MARTIN: So what happens now? I mean, what's the practical implication of all this as they try to form a government here?

SAVAGE: It's complicated, and political observers here expect the next days and weeks to be packed with negotiations to see if there's the possibility for a compromise coalition. This would probably include a coalition across the political mainstream. So some form of collaboration between the center-left and the center-right. Because crucially, all the traditional parties are still saying they won't work with the nationalist Sweden Democrats. They still see them as too far away from their ideology. We'll have to see whether they stick to what they've been saying on that.

MARTIN: All right. Maddy Savage of the BBC speaking to us from Stockholm about the recent elections in Sweden. She joined us via Skype. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

SAVAGE: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.