As Europeans continue to struggle with the issue of immigration, add another country that has been rocked at the polls over the issue.
Sweden has become the latest European nation where voters have sent a clear message to its liberal leaders in a backlash against large-scale immigration. One out of four people in the country are now immigrants.
Many voters this threw their support to a party that aims to curb the country’s very generous immigration and welfare system that supports it. While European media is painting the anti-immigration voters as racists, economists point out that Sweden spends a significant portion of its national budget for welfare programs to support the influx. They say that is not sustainable while recently, immigrants rioted across the country for more benefits.
Sunday’s election left the two rival blocs — a center-left group and a center-right alliance — with roughly 40 percent of the vote each, portending what is likely to be weeks of uncertainty and complex coalition talks before a new government can be formed.
The far-right Sweden Democrats won 17.6 percent, up from 13 percent in 2014, for a third-place finish. That showing is not strong enough for it to lead a government, but it reflects how deeply that Sweden, famous for its ultra liberal policies, is being transformed.
Sunday’s general election was the first since Sweden, with a population of 10 million, took in a record 163,000 Muslim immigrants in 2015 — the highest per capita of any European country.
That had followed the earlier arrival of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.
Swedes complain that society cannot cope with integrating so many newcomers.
The growing strength of the Sweden Democrats also reflects how old taboos are collapsing.
Only a few years ago, Swedes would be shunned as racist for suggesting the country had limits on how many migrants it should take, or for expressing the view that it is hard to integrate Africans and Arabs. But out of frustration for not being able to safely go into certain parts of large cities, people increasingly are expressing such ideas more freely — adding to the support for the party.
The election came after populist and anti-immigration parties made significant political gains in Germany, Austria and Italy since 2015 — the other countries that have shouldered the heaviest burden of taking in those leaving the Middle East for the welfare-driven immigration policies of Europe.
Sweden also gained international scrutiny after U.S. President Donald Trump portrayed the country as place where multiculturalism has brought crime and insecurity. American media portrayed the comments by Trump as false, and continue to do so, but Trump’s message resonated with Swedes who corroborated the statements with first-hand knowledge of what was taking place on their streets.
But the election may not have solved much other than sending a message. Both the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats and the center-right bloc, in which the Moderates is the largest of four parties, have said they would refuse to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who brought the Social Democrats to power in 2014, said he intended to remain in the job. His party emerged with the greatest share of the vote — 28.4 percent as the count neared completion — yet is looking at holding fewer seats in parliament than four years ago.
Lofven told his supporters the election presented “a situation that all responsible parties must deal with.” He wasn’t talking about limiting immigration, but opposing those who question the government’s immigration policy.