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Swedish parties agree coalition with backing of far-right

Prospective prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, says three parties will cooperate with the Sweden Democrats

Three centre-right parties in Sweden have reached agreement on a minority coalition that will depend on parliamentary support from the Sweden Democrats, giving the far-right party direct influence over government policy for the first time.

The leader of the Moderates party, Ulf Kristersson, said on Friday it would form a government with the Liberals and the Christian Democrats after the rightwing bloc won the narrowest of majorities in the country’s 11 September elections.

Sweden’s largest rightwing party, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, would not be a formal member of the coalition but had agreed to help shape its policy in exchange for backing it in parliament, Kristersson said.

The government’s mandate from voters meant that “change is not only necessary, change is also possible, and we four parties together can offer that change”, the Moderates leader and probable next prime minister said in Stockholm.

Kristersson will meet the parliament’s speaker on Friday and face a confirmation vote, probably on Monday, that he is expected to win. The four rightwing parties between them have a majority of just 176 seats in the 349-member parliament.

The new government’s 50-page coalition agreement includes proposals to cut taxes and cap welfare benefits but is also heavy on law-and-order, with plans to crack down on criminal gangs. It also aims to build more new nuclear power plants.

The Sweden Democrats’ direct role in policy marks a historic shift in Swedish politics and would have been unthinkable less then a decade ago when no mainstream party would have anything to do with its leader, Jimmie Åkesson.

Founded by neo-Nazis and other far-right activists, the party has purged itself of many of its more extreme elements and moved steadily toward the mainstream under Åkesson, who became leader in 2005 and has overseen its rebranding.

Its success echoes progress made by other far-right parties around Europe. While their vote shares have not necessarily risen significantly in recent years, they have become increasingly normalised, accepted by both voters and mainstream parties.

The process has been bolstered by the mainstream right’s willingness to cooperate with them and the left’s inability to unite against them, analysts say, as well as by largely successful efforts by far-right parties themselves to detoxify their image.

Åkesson told reporters on Friday he would have preferred cabinet seats for his party, but said he supported the deal that would help the Sweden Democrats reformulate Sweden’s immigration and criminal justice policies in particular.

“For us, it has been absolutely decisive that a shift in power must also be a paradigm shift regarding immigration and integration policy,” he said.

The new government aims to make it harder for new immigrants to get benefits, while police will be able to take tougher measures against criminal gangs and sentences for gang crimes will be longer.

It also proposes to impose a national ban on begging, open up the possibility of sending prisoners to serve their sentences abroad, introduce a crown-witness programme and stop-and-search zones, and boost CCTV use.

“We will carry out a thorough review of the entire penal code, with tougher penalties for violent and sexual crimes,” Kristersson said on Facebook. Sweden’s overseas aid target of 1% of gross national income by a fixed sum.

Under the agreement, the Sweden Democrats will be entitled to appoint civil servants in key government offices, while collaboration with the three-party coalition will be assured by a new “cooperation structure”.

The party’s message that most of Sweden’s problems, including persistently high levels of gang violence, are due to the country’s overgenerous immigration policies and its failure to integrate “new Swedes” has struck a chord with many voters.

The Sweden Democrats garnered 20.5% of the vote in last month’s poll, beaten only by outgoing prime minister Magdalena Andersson’s Social Democrats, who have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s and remain the country’s largest party.

The Christian Democrat leader, Ebba Busch, said new nuclear reactors would be built after Sweden shut down six of its 12 reactors in recent years, with the Social Democratic party traditionally opposed to nuclear energy.

Source : The Guardian

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