Sweden Democrats, far-right party, part of government for 1st time ever
Coalition hails 'paradigm shift' on immigration, while opposition MP calls shift 'frightening'
Sweden's parliament confirmed Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Monday as head of a three-party minority coalition that for the first time includes a role for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in government.
The Moderate, Christian Democrat and Liberal party coalition plans to cut taxes, cap benefits, tighten immigration rules and give police more powers as part of a policy deal with the Sweden Democrats, who are now the biggest party on the right after September's election.
Not only will Kristersson be dependent on the Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in the white supremacist fringe, but his government faces an economic downturn, war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis that has seen prices for food and electricity soar.
Kristersson will be replacing Magdalena Andersson, who heads Sweden's largest party, the Social Democrats, which is now in opposition. He backs Sweden's historic bid to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, though that bid is currently opposed by Turkey.
"Sweden is a country that is experiencing several parallel crises at the same time," Kristersson told reporters. "I don't think anyone thinks that the challenges that face the new government are easy."
In the election on Sept. 11, the right-wing bloc secured a slim majority, winning 176 seats in the 349-member parliament.
The Sweden Democrats won 20.5 per cent of the vote in September, against 19.1 per cent for the Moderates, but Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson could not get enough support to head a government.
His party, however, has had a big impact on the new government's policies, marking a watershed in Swedish politics, long seen as synonymous with liberal values and openness.
Shut out of cabinet spots
The Sweden Democrats were founded in the 1980s by far-right extremists. Akesson took over the party in 2005, but until 2018, no party would have anything to do with them.
Their message that decades of overly generous immigration policies are behind a surge in shooting and gang crime has struck a chord with voters in recent years.
Akesson said he would have preferred cabinet seats for the Sweden Democrats, but he supported the deal that would give his party influence over government policy, including on immigration and criminal justice.
The coalition's policies are "authoritarian, conservative and nationalistic," Green Party leader Per Bolund said.
Successive governments have toughened immigration rules over the last decade, but the new coalition will move even further to the right.
Asylum status will be temporary and the government plans to make it harder for new immigrants to get benefits. There will also be a review of inducements for voluntary repatriation "with a particular focus on those who have not integrated."
The Sweden Democrat leader said the new government's tenure would mark a "paradigm shift" in immigration policy characterized by "order, reason and common sense." On crime, police will be able to take tougher measures against criminal gangs and sentences for gang crimes will be longer.
The centre-left opposition heavily criticized the new governing coalition, with Lena Hallgren of the Social Democrats calling it "a strange construction."
Nooshi Dadgostar, the leader of the former communist Left Party, said her parents who fled from Iran could never have imagined that Sweden would embark on an authoritarian path.
"What is happening now in Sweden is frightening," she told parliament.
With files from The Associated Press