Last weekend, while the world was watching the rise of the Sweden Democrats, Swedes were watching Uppdrag granskning (Investigative Assignment). The program’s title sounds like that of a Scandinavian noir thriller. This episode’s plot, set in the Stockholm immigrant suburb of Botkyrka, was murky too. But the criminal dealings in this Sveriges Television production weren’t fictional. Investigative Assignment exposed a scheme to sell thousands of Muslim votes in Sunday’s election, with implications that could have affected the national outcome.
Botkyrka is one of Sweden’s largest municipalities, with 92,000 residents. It also has one of Sweden’s highest percentages of first- and -second-generation immigrants; in 2017, 58.6 per cent of Botkyrka residents, many of them Muslim, were either born abroad or had at least one parent born abroad. Also in 2017, four of Botkyrka’s eight districts appeared on the Swedish police’s list of 63 ‘vulnerable areas’ with high rates of criminality and unemployment, and low rates of social integration.
Botkyrka has been ruled since 1994 by the centre-left Social Democrats. The rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrats has drawn votes from the Social Democrats as well as the centre-right Moderates. In Botkyrka as in the national parliament, the Social Democrats rule in a ‘red-green’ coalition with the Greens and the Left Party.
On July 25th, two months before the elections, Stina Lundgren, the Moderates’ candidate in Botkyrka, received an invitation to visit the mosque in the Alby district. At the meeting, the mosque’s imam offered Lundgren 3,000 votes in return for a promise that, once in office, the Moderates would arrange a building plot for a new, bigger mosque in a central location.
Voter turnout in Botkyrka is low: 44.75 per cent in the 2014 elections, as opposed to 85.8 per cent nationally. The Social Democrats won 7,839 (31.4 per cent) of Botykyrka’s 25,485 votes; the Moderates took 2,860 (11.3 per cent). Transferring 3,000 votes from the Social Democrats to the Moderates would have tipped the balance in Botkyrka. And with the Social Democrat- and Moderate-led blocs neck and neck nationally, a Moderate takeover of Botkyrka could have been vital to the outcome of the 2018 election.
‘Naturally, we were completely shocked,’ Lundgren told SVT. A second surprise was that the deal was brokered by Ali Khalil, one of her political rivals. Prominent in Botykyrka’s Green Party, Khalil also sat on the municipal council, and is active in Botkyrka’s Muslim forsamling (community). Khalil was putting his religious allegiance ahead of his political principles: If the secret plan worked, Khalil would have tipped the Greens and their Social Democrat allies out of power in Botkyrka.
Four days before Sunday’s vote, Investigative Assignment, aided by Jimmy Baker, a previous Moderate candidate, phoned Khalil. ‘The target group pays close attention to the imams,’ Khalil explained, unaware that he was being recorded. ‘If the imam says, ‘The Moderates are the best vote for us’, the people will do it.’
With the election imminent, Khalil negotiated the price down to ‘1000-1,500’ votes: ‘That’s not small at all.’ Khalil organised a second meeting at the Alby mosque, which SVT secretly filmed. A senior figure in the mosque leadership offered to supply up to a thousand votes through an announcement at Friday prayers: ‘They believe in us.’
Like Ali Khalil, the mosque leader is also on Botkyrka’s municipal payroll. He is a valinformatör, an ‘electoral communicator’ tasked with giving neutral information to voters about the various parties’ platforms, and without telling them how to vote. He saw no conflict of interest. ‘In my office [in the Alby mosque], I follow my own interest. But outside, in the streets, I work in the people’s interest, not mine…I’m completely neutral, because I’m a valinformatör.’
It isn’t illegal in Sweden for community leaders to advise members on how their votes might serve their communal interest. It is, however, illegal in all liberal democracies to seek to corrupt the political process. It is also immoral to publicly represent one political party while seeking to advance the interests of a rival political party, as the price of advancing the communal interests of a single religious group.
Ethnic and religious bloc voting is a historic fact in democratic societies, and notably in the United States. While a ‘Jewish vote’ exists in a handful of seats in only two European states, Britain and France, mass immigration now makes the ‘Muslim vote’ crucial in every Western European election; a reality confirmed by Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London mayoral race of 2016.
On Sunday night, the Social Democrats held Botkyrka, with their share of the vote remaining steady. The Greens collapsed from 16.2 per cent to 4.9 per cent, probably because of the firing of Ali Khalil after the Investigative Assignment broadcast. The Moderates, bucking their national trend, rose from 11.3 per cent to 14.9 per cent. The difference between victory or defeat for the left or right blocs may come down to a single seat. If Christina Lundgren had succumbed to temptation in the mosque at Alby, Sunday’s Swedish election would have announced another reality: a Moderate government, pushed over the line by religious machine politics in what was supposed to be Europe’s most sophisticated and secular society.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.