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The left won Sweden's election — thanks to surging support for the far-right

The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson.
The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson.
Frankie Fouganthin
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Just as Vox's Matt Yglesias predicted, it appears that the Social Democratic Party — the traditional party of the Swedish left which governed the country for most of the 20th century — will be returning to power, having won a plurality of seats in parliament. As Matt explained, poor economic management by the central bank hurt the economy and center-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was punished for it by voters.

But while Reinfeldt's Moderate Party and its allies in parliament suffered a big loss — 31 seats out of the 349 total — that didn't really translate into a win for the SDP and its allies. The SDP gained only one seat, the Left Party (which, as the name implies, stands to the SDP's left) gained two, and the Greens actually lost a seat, for a total left coalition gain of two seats:

sweden chart

So where did the remaining 29 seats the center-right parties lost go? To the Sweden Democrats, a far-right party in the vein of France's National Front. It used to be much more explicitly racist, formed by ex-members of the hate group Keep Sweden Swedish and neo-Nazi organizations. "Two prominent early activists," the Daily Telegraph's Jake Wallis Simons reports, "were Anders Klarström from the Nordic Reich Party, and Gustaf Ekström, who had been a member of the Waffen SS."

The party has tried to moderate in recent years, but its main issue remains resisting immigration by ethnic minorities to Sweden, and it clearly hasn't purged the racists from its ranks. In 2012, a video recorded two years prior emerged showing a horrifying incident in which the party's economic spokesman (a member of parliament) and another party member berated a Swedish-Kurdish comedian with ethnic slurs, and physically attacked a man who tried to intervene. Filming the incident was another Sweden Democrat member of parliament, who shoved a woman into a car who tried to step in. The economic spokesman was forced to resign his spokesman position, but none involved were expelled from the party.

The Social Democrats have wisely ruled out forming a government with these people, and will instead govern as a minority government, which brings with it significant challenges. But that doesn't change the fact that they weren't the real winner. The far-right was.