As political parties in Sweden make their last pitches ahead of Sunday’s elections, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has denounced a far-right party as racist and called it a threat to the nation’s European values.
“We are not going to retreat one millimetre in the face of hatred and extremism wherever it shows itself,” Lofven said on Saturday.
“Again and again and again, they show their Nazi and racist roots and they are trying to destroy the EU at a time when we need that cooperation the most.”
Lofven’s comments were in response to remarks by the main far-right candidate who said migrants themselves are to blame for the difficulties they face in finding employment in the Scandinavian country.
During a heated TV debate on Friday, Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats (SD), said foreigners – many of whom are refugees – are unemployed “because they’re not Swedish. They can’t adjust to Sweden, and it’s hard for them to get a job.”
The comments caused a stir in Sweden, with even the broadcaster that aired the debate, SVT, calling them “degrading and against the democratic mandate of public broadcasting”.
Founded in 1988, the SD was a white nationalist movement through much of the early 1990s. It has since sought to soften its public image to that of a right-wing nationalist party. Their platform has been called anti-immigrant and anti-European Union.
Sunday’s parliamentary vote will be Sweden’s first since the government in 2015 allowed 163,000 migrants and refugees into the country of 10 million.
Though far less than the 890,000 refugees Germany took in that year, it was the most per capita of any European nation.
The SD won 13 percent of the vote in 2014, but recent opinion polls show they could secure as much as 20 percent this time around.
Though it would not be enough to form a government, a strong show of support would give more power to the SD to pressure the next administration.
Lofven said during the debate that he would not work with the far-right party and accused some of his challengers of being open to doing so.
Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party, stressed the importance of integrating newcomers.
“We can’t have a situation when you come to Sweden and not integrate in society,” he told voters. “Integration is one of the biggest questions for the future in Sweden.”
Carl Bildt, a former prime minister from the Moderate Party, said the far-right’s newfound popularity should be taken seriously, while the societal concerns that aided their ascent should be dealt with.
Swedish leaders should “address the concerns that are there, address the anti-European sentiments they are expressing as well, in order to be more resilient as a society against these sorts of trends in the future,” Bildt said.