A strong showing by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in the Swedish elections on September 9 drained away so many votes from the establishment parties that the two main parliamentary blocs were left virtually tied and far short of a governing majority.
The Sweden Democrats won 17.5% of the vote and emerged as the third-largest party in the country, according to the official election results released on September 16. The result, a 4.6% improvement on the 12.9% it won in 2014, placed the Sweden Democrats into a situation of holding the balance of power in the next parliament.
Incumbent Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's center-left Social Democrats came in first, with 28.3% of the vote — the party's worst result in more than 100 years. The center-right Moderate party came in second, with 19.8% of the vote, a 3.5% drop from 2014.
With eight political parties in the Swedish Parliament, the establishment parties traditionally have organized themselves into two rival parliamentary blocs: On the left, the Social Democrats and their allies garnered 40.7% of the vote. On the right, the Moderates and their allies won 40.3% of the vote.
Although the Sweden Democrats are now in a position to play kingmaker in Parliament, the mainstream blocs have vowed not to cooperate with them because of their "nationalist" positions on immigration and the European Union.
Sweden, with a largely homogenous population of around 10 million people, received nearly 500,000 asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East since 2010. The arrival of so many overwhelmingly male migrants from different cultural and religious backgrounds has created massive social upheaval, including a surge in sexual assaults and gang violence in cities and towns across Sweden.
The Sweden Democrats campaigned on a promise to curb immigration, restrict family reunifications, speed up deportations and crack down on migrant crime. Party leader Jimmie Åkesson also warned that mass migration poses an existential threat to Sweden's social welfare system. With tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of migrants receiving welfare payments without having made any contributions, the current welfare system seems destined to collapse, he said.
Some observers argued that the Social Democrats managed to eke out a success in the 2018 election only by adopting some of the immigration proposals advocated by the Sweden Democrats. In May 2018, for example, Prime Minister Löfven, in an effort to stanch the bleeding of votes, announced a plan to tighten asylum rules, improve border controls and cut welfare benefits for migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected.
The scale of the challenge facing Sweden is daunting. A recent study by the Pew Research Center estimated that even if all immigration were immediately to stop, the proportion of Muslims in Sweden would still rise to more than 11% of the overall population by 2050. A medium migration scenario places Sweden's Muslim population at 20.5% in 30 years; a high migration scenario places the Muslim population at 30.6%.