The problems facing Sweden after a wave of shootings and arson attacks are every bit as serious as the country’s 1990s financial crisis, according to the favourite to become prime minister in next month’s elections.
Ulf Kristersson, head of the centre-right Moderate party, told the Financial Times that Swedes had lost trust in the state and that the country was paying the price for 20 years of “very unsuccessful integration policies” by both left- and rightwing governments.
“There is a crisis in politics being able to solve problems. Is politics able to do anything at all?” said Mr Kristersson before a campaign event in the heart of the Swedish countryside.
Sweden, held up in international surveys as one of the world’s happiest and most successful countries, has been jolted by frequent shootings, grenade attacks and arson attacks on cars in suburbs with a heavy immigrant population in Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg.
Last week, about 100 cars were set on fire in Gothenburg and neighbouring cities by masked gangs of youths using Molotov cocktails.
That violence has upended Sweden’s political agenda, pushing the economy down the list of voter priorities and lifting up immigration and law and order.
It has also boosted the anti-immigration, rightwing Sweden Democrats, moving them in many polls ahead of the Moderates into second place and complicating Mr Kristersson’s plans to form a government after the vote on September 9.
Both centre-left and centre-right have ruled out co-operating with the Sweden Democrats, which could leave either side trying to try to put together a viable minority government.
Mr Kristersson said Sweden faced a crisis as serious as its financial and economic problems at the start of the 1990s, when interest rates rose to 500 per cent and several banks needed rescuing.
“It’s hard because it is not about economics or money this time. Trust in the political parties and politics to deal with it is less than it was in the 90s crisis,” he said.
Mr Kristersson said he wanted gang offenders to be given longer prison sentences and the number of police officers to be increased after a fall in recent years.
The Moderate party’s manifesto, released on Saturday, called for 10,000 extra police officers by 2024 as well as the elimination of reduced sentences for youths aged 18-21.
He added that politicians needed to act more forcefully. “We have been saying it [is unacceptable] since 2013, and showing in practice that we accept it. This is threatening very basic values. [The car fires are] a sign that things happen that should not happen, that did not happen, that this is not an extreme event,” he added.
The state’s powerlessness extended well beyond law and order matters, Mr Kristersson argued, pointing to other areas such as cuts in military spending and decades-long housing problems.
Mr Kristersson said politicians should not blame voters for the situation. “When voters are discontent, don’t blame them. We have the obligation to show that the state can do the stuff that they want us to do. Right now, we rather prove that politics can’t do what it should do,” he added.
Latest opinion polls show that the traditional centre-left and centre-right blocs are in a statistical dead-heat, with the Sweden Democrats holding the balance of power with an average of 19-20 per cent.
Magdalena Andersson, the Social Democrat finance minister, reacted to the FT interview by saying: “It’s like saying straight out to international investors: ‘Don’t invest in Sweden’.”
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