Sweden Democrats party leader Jimmie Akesson gives a speech during a democracy event at Frihamnen
Sweden Democrats party leader Jimmie Akesson gives a speech during a democracy event at Frihamnen, the port of Gothenburg, Sweden August 26, 2022. Bjorn Larsson Rosvall / TT News Agency/via REUTERS

Once shunned by mainstream parties, the anti-immigration, far-right Sweden Democrats look poised to be main power brokers on Sunday, embraced by a right-wing opposition that has come to see them as key to ending nearly a decade of Social Democrat rule.

Its leader Jimmie Akesson's nationalist views and call to "make Sweden good again" coincide with populist gains elsewhere in Europe and the United States and appeal to some voters who relate to his image of a Sweden weighed down by migrants.

Formed in part by activists with neo-Nazi and white supremacist ties in 1988, the Sweden Democrats have seen support grow in the 12 years since the party first entered parliament as Akesson toned down its extremist image.

The bearded and bespectacled 43-year-old has tapped into voters' concerns over mounting gang violence the government says is linked to poor integration of many of the 2 million "new Swedes" who have arrived over the past two decades.

Opinion polls put Akesson's party at about 20%, well behind the Social Democrats but ahead of the Moderates, traditional head of the right wing whose leader, Ulf Kristersson, is expected to become prime minister if the bloc wins the Sept. 11 election. Such a win would give Akesson unprecedented influence on the new government.

"A great many Swedes are immensely tired of immigration, of crime, of the electricity prices," Akesson told a crowd of about 700 supporters at a rally on Aug. 19, held a couple of hundred yards from central Stockholm's main mosque.

Having shed plans to leave the European Union and never join NATO, the party's tough stance on immigration remains undimmed.

It has set out a 30-point programme aimed at making Sweden the toughest country on immigration in the EU, including legislation making it possible to deny people seeking asylum based on religious or LGBTQ grounds.

It wants to slash economic benefits for immigrants and more and tougher policing, including visitation zones in troubled areas for searches without concrete suspicion of a crime.

Akesson, who stepped onto the stage at the rally last month to cheers and a flame-throwing display, has led the party since 2005 and is credited with moving it from the fringe of Swedish politics into the mainstream.

While it has won over some voters, the party remains deeply divisive in a country which sees itself as a progressive society.

A few dozen young protesters chanted "no racists on our streets" throughout the rally, with police removing some of them for disturbing public order.


Regardless of the outcome of the election, where Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson's Social Democrat-led bloc and the right-wing opposition are running neck-and-neck in recent polls, the Sweden Democrats have already changed Swedish politics.

Hitting out at immigration, shattering what was a taboo in Sweden's political discourse only a decade ago, it has forced other parties to adjust.

"It has been very clear in the last five years that the other parties have aligned themselves with us, that they have positioned themselves close to us in order to not lose more voters," Akesson told Reuters on the sidelines of the rally.

Moderates' Kristersson, who shook hands with a holocaust survivor in 2018 and promised her he would never cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, said the most important thing now was to form a strong government.

"They have a very troubled past and roots and they need to take responsibility for that," he told Reuters. "But my concern is policy. I want to solve big issues."

Others aren't so accommodating.

The Centre Party, traditionally part of the centre-right bloc, has loosely aligned with the Social Democrats, Greens and Left in a bid to keep Sweden Democrats away from government, making its leader, Annie Loof, a bugbear for the far right.

Akesson said the right-wing bloc, now consisting of Sweden Democrats, Moderates, and the smaller Christian Democrats and Liberals, were already broadly aligned on some key issues, such as tougher rules on immigration and law and order.

As the rally drew to a close, he treated the crowd to a dance, donning a golden hat typically worn by sports teams after winning a championship.

"This is the only party that can solve the challenges we are facing," said Elisabeth, a 68-year-old retired florist at the rally, declining to give her last name.