Sweden just had its general election on 11 September, and the two blocs, the social democratic left and the more conservative right became almost equal, as they often do in Swedish elections. The ‘predicted surprise’ was that the populist right-wing party, the Sweden Democrats (SD), became the country’s second-largest party, with over 20 percent of the votes. The Swedish Social Democratic Labour Party (S) remains the largest overall, with over 30 percent of the votes, more than in the last election in 2018, but still not enough to stay in power in a coalition with the Socialist Left Party, the Environmentalists and the Centre Party—although just three seats short of a majority. PM Magdalena Anderson’s government tendered its resignation, giving room for Moderaterna (M), a centrist-conservative party, led by Ulf Kristersson (58), with just over 18 percent of the votes, to form the next government, supported by SD and two smaller parties, Kristdemokraterna (KD) and Liberalerna (L), which recently decided that they wanted to support the bourgeoisie side. It is unclear if L will have seats in Kristersson’s minority government; even more unlikely is it that SD will have ministerial posts—as they are not yet seen as quite ‘clean’ and acceptable in good parliamentary circles.

But CD will have a major influence on the new government’s policies, at the same time as it can maintain its populist protest image, thus also having a chance of growing bigger in future elections. A possibility could be that during the 4-year parliamentary term, Kristersson might reshuffle his government and include cabinet members from SD. It may also happen that the Kristersson government collapses altogether and that Andersson from S, even together with Kristersson from M, would ‘swallow some camels’ and create a cabinet across the two blocks. S and M are usually opponents, but they also agree on many issues and have long experience as ruling parties. Similar parties managed to rule together under Angela Merkel in Germany. In neighbouring Norway and Denmark, right-wing populist parties have been in government, which has led to lower support in later elections; one could say their talk has been exposed and their action has been less.

Despite having ruled for the last eight years, the Social Democrats gained more votes in this year’s election. Stefan Löfven (65) was relieved from his duties as PM and party leadership 9 months ago when Magdalena Andersson (55) took over. In an otherwise gender-equal land, she was the first female PM, and she quickly became highly respected by the voters. However, so did also the support for SD, even with voters deserting S and other old parties.

But SD, founded in 1988 as a protest party, including some new-Nazi groups and many anti-emigration extremists, is still not seen as entirely acceptable by all. SD’s blunt and folksy populist language contributes to many correct Swedes worrying about letting SD be given political power. SD’s Chairman Jimmie Åkesson (43), who has been with the party for over twenty years and chairman for 17 years, now expels new Nazis every time they are exposed. But he also says that most parties, if not all, secretly have extremist and even new-Nazi members or sympathisers, albeit not as often as SD. He is not against immigration and refugees, he says, although he prefers them to come from countries nearby, currently, meaning from Ukraine. He says that Muslims and other newcomers must accept Swedish values and learn the language if they want to stay in Sweden.

Åkesson argues that the integration policies have too often failed in Sweden, a country with over 20 percent immigrants in a population of about ten million. Several hundred thousand immigrants live on welfare and are not likely ever to be able to join the labour force. Such families become poor, easily feeling like outsiders and second-class. If children perform well at school they stand a chance to succeed in the new land. If not, boys, in particular, may drift into communities where gang crime and drugs rule. Today, Sweden is the European country with the relatively highest number of death killings, often connected to gangs.

All political parties admit to these problems and would say that Swedish authorities have been naive about them for too long. SD is the political party with the clearest law and order measures, along with M, and many voters hope they will make Sweden safer, and also handle immigration and integration issues better, that is, indeed with more restrictive immigration laws. Generally, though, it should be realised that it is a liberal and open land.

Ulf Kristersson is the candidate for PM for the bourgeoisie side and he often focuses on the same issues as SD, even the social democrats and socialists do that, but in somewhat less blunt and sluggish language as that of the populists. They all agree that Sweden has serious social problems, which have not been handled well enough and that they will be demanding and take time to solve them.

It is common among politicians and analysts to lump together high immigration, poor integration, crime, and other youth problems However, the former social democratic PM, Stefan Löfven (65), who ruled for seven years till Andersson took over, emphasized this many times that most problems are caused by class differences and poverty, not ethnicity.

Many criminologists agree with him, arguing that historically, Swedish cities, such as the capital Stockholm and the two other major cities of Gothenburg and Malmo, have for long had high violent crime rates, mainly in the poorest labour-class areas, which often also had high domestic rural-urban migration. Thus, it would be wrong to say that it has an ethnic dimension, at least not as a major cause.

The criminologists are probably right, but the problem is that ordinary people are not concerned about the description of the problems and the more academic explanations; they are concerned about how to solve the problems as soon as possible, not only in the big cities but even in smaller towns.

The Sweden Democrats have been fishing for votes in troubled waters, one could say. However, the fact that the established, more decent parties have not faced the problems upfront, also shows the need for alternatives. Since SD seems to have solutions, at least in words, the voters have given them major support in this year’s general election. SD has in many ways set the political agenda, overshadowing other important issues about education, health, work, housing, and growing inequality. The Swedish economy does well, except for high inflation and reduced growth, as is the effect of the Russian War in Ukraine on Sweden and the rest of Europe.

During the election campaign, the social democrats and the socialists should have been able to do better in explaining that the main problems for the land are the growing class differences, inequality and poverty in one of the world’s richest and most innovative lands. Certainly, the Swedes can address such issues better than they do. The old political parties must renew and not let populists take the lead. Well, maybe they should also thank the populists for having placed some essential issues on the agenda, with some new ideas. Yet, I believe SD must not be given the ownership of defining the problems or how to solve them in their peculiar ways, often outdated and less democratic than the Swedes want. Serious responsibility rests with the old parties to renew their work methods and policies urgently. Then Sweden could again become a model for other liberal democracies.