Sweden's Parliament on Monday, 17 October, elected conservative leader Ulf Kristersson as the country's next prime minister, who will now be leading a government backed by the far-right Sweden Democrats – an unprecedented event in Sweden's political history.
The 58-year-old leader was elected by a razor-thin margin of three votes, after he announced a coalition between his Moderate Party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.
However, the major talking point of the election became the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (SD), which won a fifth of the total votes polled, and declared their support to Kristersson's coalition in Parliament.
The SD emerged as the second-largest party with an unprecedented 20.5 percent of votes in its favour, behind only outgoing PM Magdalena Andersson's Social Democrats, which have dominated the country's political sphere since the 1930s.
The ruling right-wing coalition now has 176 legislators, against the left's 173.
The new government has already announced its plans to slash taxes, tighten immigration laws, expand the powers of the police, and cap benefits - which have long been demanded by the SD, and were a part of the policy deal inked between them and Kristersson's Moderate Party.
To understand how the SD scripted history in the election, it is first necessary to know their roots.
Neo-Nazi, Anti-Muslim: Who Are the Sweden Democrats?
Over the years, the SD had been on a mission to gain legitimacy and political ground in the country.
Founded in 1988 out of a neo-Nazi group called 'Keep Sweden Swedish', the party has deep ideological similarities with Marine Le Pen's National Rally in France and Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy, rooted in Benito Mussolini's Fascist Party.
Of the SD's 30 founding fathers, 18 had Nazi affiliations, according to former party leader Tony Gustaffson. Some of them had even served in Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS, as per The New York Times.
After years of struggling to find a presence in Sweden's traditional left-leaning politics, the party entered Parliament in 2010, winning a slender 5 percent of the vote share.
However, its prominence grew over time and it managed to double its vote share in the 2014 polls, in the backdrop of Sweden accepting around 160,000 Syrian refugees, and became even larger in the 2018 polls.
However, the party's defining moment came in the 2022 election, when they surpassed even the conservative Moderaterna, which had been the country's second largest party for around 40 years.
Inequality, Gun Violence, Immigration: Reasons for the SD's Rise
The party's immense rise is a result of drastic changes that have impacted Sweden in the last few decades.
At one point of time, Sweden was considered to be a country with one of the highest levels of equality. However, over the years, a wave of privatisation of hospitals, schools, and other bodies swept over the country, leading to a massive rise in unequal living standards and stark polarisation.
The reputation of Sweden - as a country with equality of opportunity - was tarnished, leading to profound anger among the less fortunate. It is this anger that the SD has been able to tap into successfully.
Further, Sweden is among the countries considered to be most open to immigrants; so much so that a fifth of its 10 million-strong population are not natural citizens. A large part of them are migrants from other European countries or from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia etc.
The SD has constantly expressed their dismay at the intake of immigrants, particularly Muslims and Negroes, and has also blamed rising incidents of gun violence on them.
From 2010 onwards, the number of shootings in Sweden saw a massive increase. By September 2022, the police had recorded as many as 273 shootings in the country, which is expected to be the highest ever, as per The New York Times.
In a country which otherwise has strict gun laws, the rise in gun-related crimes has been blamed by the far-right on illegal drug trade, and the alleged smuggling of thousands of firearms from Eastern Europe, Turkey and other countries.
In other words, immigration has been linked directly with rising shooting incidents, drawing anger from locals and support to the SD's long-standing anti-immigrant agenda.
As Sweden turns another chapter in its political history, the sheer strength of the SD gives rise to fears that prime minister Kristersson will be urged, and in some cases even hand-twisted, to implement extremist policies to keep the far-right party nestled in his corner.
(With inputs from The New York Times.)