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Crime unites voters in Swedish far-right stronghold

Concern over soaring crime has united voters in the small town of Sjobo, where the far-right Sweden Democrats, the big winners in Sunday’s election, posted their strongest score.

Hama Abdulla, a 49-year-old immigrant from northern Iraq, is packing away the fruit stand he runs on Sjobo’s main square.

He won’t say who he voted for, but he’s not surprised the nationalist and anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) scored big on Sunday.

“Burning cars, shootings… It happens in Stockholm, Gothenburg and the other places I read about in the papers. But it’s in (the southern county of) Skane where it happens most,” Abdulla says.

“People get sick of it. I have many friends who are immigrants and still voted SD,” he adds.

Once shunned by other political parties, the Sweden Democrats surged to become the second-largest party with around 20 percent of votes, trailing only the Social Democrats — which have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s — at 30.5 percent.

In Sjobo, a small town in Skane with 20,000 inhabitants in the greater municipality, 42.7 percent of people voted for SD.

It has been an SD bastion since the party first entered parliament in 2010, boosted by anti-immigration sentiment.

Here, cafes, hair salons and pizzerias dot the quiet cobblestone main street lined with trees, resembling many small towns in Sweden.

Scattered with tidy houses and farmsteads, the municipality is the biggest employer, running schools, healthcare and elderly care.

A 40-minute drive away is Sweden’s third-largest city Malmo, where gang shootings and bombings have become almost daily occurrences, especially in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

– Gang crime –

SD’s top five election scores were all in rural Skane towns like Sjobo.

But its support has soared across Sweden in the past two decades, in particular in rural areas and small industrial towns, once the heartland of the Social Democrats but now in decline.

The party appeals mainly to men, the working class and pensioners, the latter two also long associated with the Social Democrats.

Authorities have struggled to contain the gang violence that has spread from big cities to small towns, and SD’s hard stance on immigration and crime has resonated.

SD can use their “anti-establishment” credentials to say the main parties, particularly the Social Democrats, have failed and that SD will bring change, Sirus Hafstrom Dehdari, a Stockholm University researcher and expert on radical right parties, tells AFP.

Sjobo has fewer reported crimes than the average in the rest of southern Sweden, and around half the national average of people born abroad, official statistics show.

While many Sjobo locals are reluctant to be interviewed, some openly admit that immigration and crime are the reasons they voted SD.

“There is so much gang crime and shootings in Malmo and everywhere. I have children living in Malmo, and children who have moved away,” Margareta Christensen, a 66-year-old…

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