STOCKHOLM, September15 – Jimmie Aakesson has lifted Sweden’s far-right party from obscurity to an emerging parliamentary force, with the dapper 35 year old seeking to position himself as a kinder, gentler sort of anti immigration leader.
An exit poll by public broadcaster SVT on Sunday gave his Sweden Democrats (SD) 10.5 percent of the vote, doubling their tally from the last election four years ago.
“What’s most interesting is that we can keep our kingmaker role,” Aakesson told Swedish news agency TT ahead of the exit poll, adding that he felt “elated and hopeful”.
Aakesson may not be a great speaker, but he is always perfectly turned out, with his discreet glasses giving him a hint of intellectual refinement.
His image as an archetypal cultivated Swede helps explain how he has persuaded many in a nation famous for a welcoming attitude toward foreigners that his policies are not racist, just very pro Sweden.
Yet the SD’s anti immigration line is the main reason for its startling rise in less than a decade.
When he was picked as the leader of the SD in 2005, Aakesson was a compromise candidate and few predicted that what was then a fringe party had any chances in parliament.
But in legislative elections in 2010, the party garnered 5.7 percent of the vote, taking 20 out of 349 seats in the Riksdagen.
The expected gain in Sunday’s election would put a spoke in the wheels of the likely overall winner, Social Democrat leader Stefan Loefven, as it could make it harder for him to get new laws passed.
Aakesson recently told AFP he was not planning to be in constant, systematic opposition in parliament, but would look at each bill on its merits.
“We can support proposals from both sides. For example, if the Social Democrats win, we can absolutely contribute to a majority to strengthen unemployment insurance,” he said during a campaign stop.
Even if his party remains excluded from deals in parliament –- as it has been over the past four years –- Aakesson believes he has time on his side.
– ‘Fan of online gambling’ –
So far the young politician has kept a deliberately low profile in parliament, hoping to grow the number of legislative seats before starting to make a mark.
He has also been busy cleansing the party of members who violate his stated policy of “zero tolerance” on racism introduced in 2012.
While one searches in vain for any history of Islamophobic, anti-Semitic or xenophobic remarks attributed to Aakesson, other SD members have offered such views under pseudonyms on the Internet, and sometimes in public.
Aakesson has expelled such members without hesitation and has appeared in a campaign video alongside two Swedish immigrants, including a young Asian woman, who exclaims: “Dare to defy racism!”
He has also praised French politician Marine Le Pen, whom he met for the first time in 2013, for her move to rid the Front National of its most extreme elements.
If he has any weak spot, it could be gambling. On Friday, Swedish public radio station SR revealed that this year alone he had gambled more than 50,000 euros ($65,000) in online casinos.
When questioned about the revelations, he said he had no gambling debt, had done nothing illegal and that the story was an “entirely private matter”.