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Swedish far-right leader: Success due to immigration backlash

By Per Nyberg, CNN
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Far-right success in Swedish elections
  • The country's immigration policies have "shattered" Swedish society, Jimmie Akesson says after victory
  • Sweden's ruling coalition wins a second term, but not an overall majority
  • The leader of the opposition coalition admits defeat
  • The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party gains parliamentary seats
  • Sweden
  • Immigration

Stockholm, Sweden (CNN) -- The historic success of a far-right party in Swedish elections is a response to the country's "extreme immigration policies," which have "shattered" Swedish society, the party leader said Monday.

And it's part of a wave of victories for anti-immigration parties across Europe, Jimmie Akesson of the Sweden Democrats told CNN.

"All of Europe is suffering big problems from mass immigration and of course, people are becoming more and more frustrated in several European countries, which we can see from the election results," Akesson said.

His Sweden Democrats party won 5.7 percent of the vote on Sunday and a place in the national parliament for the first time.

"We now have a platform for our ideology, and that is very important because we know that we have a big opportunity to get even more supporters," he said, insisting that the media had presented a "false image" of the party in the past.

Akesson said the party did not hold racist views.

No party or coalition won an overall majority Sunday.

That means other parties have to talk to the Sweden Democrats, Akesson said.

"We have a situation where neither of the coalitions holds a majority, which can prove problematic in the long run if we can't find a solution," he said. "So then it will be our responsibility to hold conversations and be ready to cooperate with all parties, but it is also their responsibility to talk to us."

With possession of 20 seats, the party could wind up tipping the balance of power between the two major coalitions, although party leaders have vowed not to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats.

The ruling center-right coalition won re-election, the first time a non-socialist government was elected to a second term in the country's political history.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's center-right four-party coalition -- made up of the Moderates, the Liberals, the Christian Democrats and the Centre party -- held on to power, but lost its outright majority.

"The Swedish people have cast their vote, and they have ruled that we are the ones who should keep governing," Reinfeldt said at his party's election night celebration.

His coalition won 49.3 percent of the vote, officials at the Swedish Election Authority said after all 5,668 voting districts reported. The opposition "red-green" coalition -- consisting of the Social Democrats, the Left party and the Green Party -- had 43.7 percent of the vote, election officials said.

The leader of Sweden's red-green opposition coalition, Mona Sahlin, admitted defeat Sunday night. She told her supporters they were not able to regain the trust of the voters.

"We have lost," she said, stressing that the center-right coalition also failed to get an outright majority.

The ruling coalition won 172 seats, while Sahlin's group took 157 in the 349-seat parliament.

Sweden has a long tradition of socialist rule, with a cradle-to-grave welfare system. But the global financial crisis threw Sweden into one of its worst economic downturns since World War II.

The ruling conservative coalition, which came into power in 2006, imposed a string of austerity measures and managed to turn Sweden's economy into one of the strongest in Europe, with an expected growth of 4.5 percent this year. The crisis management appears to have impacted many voters.

"I think the economy is the key issue," said one man at a Stockholm polling station. "I think Sweden has done very well for the last few years during the global financial crisis, and I hope the government will stay on."

But with a tightening of fiscal policy, several groups in Swedish society have seen their situation worsen. Pensioners and sick people are among the hardest hit, and the leader of the red-green coalition had urged voters to vote for change on Sunday.

"There is a clear difference between the left's and the right's tax policies towards working people and pensioners," said one elderly woman who had just cast her ballot on Sunday. "My pension has gone down during these last years."

"The moderate party and the center-right alliance seeks the confidence of the voters," Reinfeldt said in a televised speech on Saturday, the eve of the election. "We do this with a promise to take responsibility. We have taken Sweden through a difficult economic crisis. Many decisions have been hard to make, and not everything has been right from the beginning."

But, he said, "after a difficult financial crisis, confidence in the future is now growing in our country. It is great to see how Sweden gets back on its feet. We are seeing more jobs and the unemployment is going down. Sweden today has Europe's strongest economy, but there is a risk for new troubled times. There are countries in our surroundings that have lost control over their economy and have had to make hard cuts and increase taxes. This will always hit the weakest the hardest. Don't put Sweden in this situation."

Meanwhile, Sahlin said, nearly all Swedes want "a health care based on their needs, not their wallet, and a school that helps all children gain knowledge, regardless of their background ... I want to take responsibility for Sweden, the welfare state. If we can handle the jobs situation, then our economy will grow, and we can impose our welfare."

"I am for reductions in tax, but not at any cost," she said. "Don't vote away Sweden the welfare state. What we sell and tear down now will never come back."

The far-right Sweden Democrats, which received 2.9 percent of votes in 2006, nearly doubled its votes this year. But its anti-immigration policies have caused all the main party leaders to vow not to cooperate with it, even as it won seats.

"I think it is more important than ever that everyone goes to vote today so that we can stop them," one young woman voter said, referring to the Sweden Democrats. "I think it would be a day of shame for all Swedes if those people would come into parliament."