Sweden's far-right rises amid immigration debate

AP News
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Posted: Sep 15, 2014 9:40 AM
Sweden's far-right rises amid immigration debate

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A Swedish far-right party demanding sharp cuts in immigration has more than doubled its support in a parliamentary election.

Ironically, the surge for the far-right Sweden Democrats means the country's government itself is poised to shift to the left, since many of the Sweden Democrats' new voters defected from Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's center-right coalition. That left Stefan Lofven's Social Democrats and its smaller partners as the top vote-getter in Sunday's election.

Here's a guide to Sweden's shifting political situation:

A NEW GOVERNMENT IS COMING

Reinfeldt's four-party coalition, known as the Alliance, is out after eight years of tax cuts and pro-market policies that critics say have eroded Sweden's welfare system. The prime minister says he will resign Monday.

The Alliance lost 31 seats in the 349-member Parliament, paving the way for the left-leaning Social Democrats to start coalition talks on forming a new government.

Still, those talks are going to be complicated. Even with the support of the smaller Green and Left parties, the Social Democrats' bloc would only have 158 seats in Parliament, 17 short of a majority. It's also unclear if Lofven can get any support from the center-right parties.

A SURGE FOR THE FAR-RIGHT

Far-right parties with an anti-immigration agenda have gained ground across Europe for more than a decade. Sweden was an exception until four years ago when the Sweden Democrats entered Parliament.

Born out of a radical nationalist movement with neo-Nazi links, the Sweden Democrats have softened their rhetoric and expelled openly racist members. On Sunday they surged from 20 to 49 seats to become the third biggest party in Sweden's parliament. The Brussels-based European Jewish Congress called the vote a "wake-up call for Sweden and the rest of Europe."

This year, Sweden expects to accept up to 80,000 asylum-seekers from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries. Relative to Sweden's population, that's the biggest flow in the 28-nation European Union.

Surveys show about 40 percent of Swedes want less immigration. Yet before the Sweden Democrats, no party in parliament wanted to tighten the rules.

The other parties see it as their moral duty to keep wealthy Sweden's borders open to refugees fleeing war and poverty — and are likely to reach agreements across the political divide to keep the Sweden Democrats from having any influence on immigration.

MINORITY GOVERNMENT DEADLOCK

It looks like Lofven will be in charge of a weak left-leaning minority government that's going to struggle to push its agenda through parliament.

Lofven won't reverse Reinfeldt's most popular reforms, such as tax cuts for middle-income earners. The Social Democrats only want to raise taxes for people making more than $100,000 a year. But he has vowed to remove the tax breaks that made it cheaper for companies to hire young employees.

No dramatic shift in foreign policy is expected. Sweden, a member of the EU, will remain outside NATO and keep its krona instead of using the euro, the EU's common currency.

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Karl Ritter can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karl_ritter