With the highly anticipated Swedish election looming next weekend, and the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party having surged in the polls (until the last few days), the timing of tonight's gang riots is only likely to enrage voters even more.
With public calls growing for tougher policies on crime and immigration, support has risen for the ironically named, Sweden Democrats, a party with neo-Nazi roots that wants to freeze immigration and to hold a referendum on Sweden’s membership of the European Union.
Their worried mainstream rivals have started moving to the right on crime and immigration to try to counter the Sweden Democrats’ threat in the Sept. 9 election. But so far, they are playing into the hands of the far-right.
“Right now they (mainstream parties) are competing over who can set out the most restrictive policies,” said Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin, whose Green Party is part of a minority government led by the Social Democratic Party.
“It clearly benefits the Sweden Democrats.”
Opinion polls put the Sweden Democrats on about 20 percent support, up from the 13 percent of votes they secured in the 2014 election and the 5.7 percent which saw them enter parliament for the first time in 2010.
The Sweden Democrats’ rise on the back of anti-immigration sentiment mirrors gains for right-wing, populist and anti-establishment parties in other European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.
The Sweden Democrats still trail the Social Democratic Party but has overtaken the main opposition Moderates in many polls. All mainstream parties have ruled out working with them.
But they could emerge from the election as kingmakers, and a strong election showing could force the next government to take their views into consideration when shaping policy.
Their policies include a total freeze on asylum seekers and accepting refugees only from Sweden’s neighbors in the future. They also want tougher penalties for crime and more powers for police, and say tax cuts and higher spending on welfare could be funded by cutting the immigration budget.
Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democratic party, has described the situation as “pretty fantastic”.
“We are dominating the debate even though no one will talk to us,” he told party members.
The Sweden Democrats have succeeded in linking the two in the minds of many voters, even though official statistics show no correlation between overall levels of crime and immigration. However, while the government denies it has lost control but Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has not ruled out sending the military into problem areas.
“Sweden is going down a more right-wing path,” said Nick Aylott, a political scientist at Sodertorn University said. “It is almost impossible to avoid according some sort of influence to a party with around 20 percent of the vote.”