Sweden can’t avoid immigration issue: analysts

By Peter Harmsen ,AFP

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Sweden may have narrowly avoided snap elections that would have been dominated by a debate on immigration, but with asylum seekers arriving in record numbers the issue is unlikely to stay off the agenda for long, analysts say. The Sweden Democrats, a far-right party holding the balance of power in parliament, had said they wanted the polls to serve as a ��referendum on immigration�� �X and they almost succeeded. ��If we had ended up with snap elections, we would have talked a lot about immigration and it would have been on the Sweden Democrats’ terms,�� said Camilla Sandstroem, a political scientist at Umeaa University in northern Sweden. The Sweden Democrats, who came third in September parliamentary polls, this month pushed Prime Minister Stefan Loefven to call early elections after they refused to back his budget to signal discontent with his generous immigration policies. But on Saturday, Loefven, a Social Democrat, announced a surprise deal with the center-right opposition that enables him to stay in the job without seeking a new mandate from voters. He unveiled a wide-ranging agreement that aims to ensure political stability until 2022 by allowing the traditional parties to govern without asking for support from the Sweden Democrats. But one word was absent from the accord: immigration.

��It’s a bit surprising that the immigration issue is not part of the deal,�� said Sandstroem. ��We urgently need to discuss it.��

Sweden, with a population of 9.6 million people, has one of Europe’s most liberal immigration policies and is expected to receive up to 105,000 asylum seekers next year, according to official estimates. This record number is partly due to a sweeping gesture announced last year to grant permanent residency to all Syrian refugees who make it to Sweden.