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European elections are 1st electoral setback for Sweden’s populist party with far-right roots

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The elections in Sweden to the European Parliament marked the first electoral setback for the Swedish populist party with far-right roots that grabbed more than 13% of the votes but came fourth, according to preliminary figures Monday. That made Sweden one of the few countries in Europe where the far-right is in retreat.

The Sweden Democrats grabbed 13.2 % of the votes, down 2.2%, and would keep their three seats in the EP assembly, according to preliminary figures.

They came in behind the opposition Social Democrats, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s conservatives Moderates and the Greens, which made some of the largest gains Sunday in the EU election for Sweden’s 21 seats. The Social Democrats grabbed nearly one-fourth of the votes and would get five seats while the Moderates would get four and the Greens three.

The poor showing by the Sweden Democrats was “the election night’s greatest sensation,” said Mats Knutson, the political analyst with Swedish broadcaster SVT.

He said the reasons for the poor showing could be that the party faced a storm of criticism after a television station had alleged that it had been operating fake social media accounts, badmouthing political opponents and allies, spreading doctored videos and posting racist remarks. Knutson also noted that the migration issue wasn’t particularly important to voters this time.

Christine Nissen, an analyst with the Copenhagen-based think tank Europa, said that migration wasn’t the top issue in northern Europe in contrast to southern Europe where “issues such as migration are important for the voters there.”

While Sweden Democrats lost voters across most groups, one key exception was young people.

According to figures by Swedish broadcaster SVT, the party managed to hold 10% of the share of voters between 22–30-year-olds compared to the last EU election in 2019. The Sweden Democrats’ share of the vote among people 18 to 21 jumped from 9% to 15% in the latest election

An analysis published by the Swedish news agency TT shows the party was far more active on social media platforms than other political parties and had far more engagements online.

The Sweden Democrats, who today support membership in the 27-member bloc, have toned down their rhetoric and expelled openly racist members. They have grown from a marginal movement with less than 2% support to becoming the country’s second-biggest party.

In the 2022 national parliamentary elections, the Sweden Democrats won nearly 21% of the vote, up from 17.5% in the previous polls four years earlier. They gained on the rising fears of crime in largely immigrant neighborhoods in segregated districts that are home to large numbers of migrants who have failed to integrate into Swedish society.

The party which maintains a hard line on immigration, supports Sweden’s three-party center-right government in the 349-member Riksdag, but is not part of it. Kristersson’s government has been moving toward a tougher stance on criminal gangs by increasing prison sentences for gang members and introducing stop-and-frisk zones for police to crack down on crime.

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David Keyton in Berlin contributed to this report.

By JAN M. OLSEN
Associated Press

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