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Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party second largest: Poll

This photo taken on September 14, 2014 shows Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats party, in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by AFP)
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party is the country's second largest, a reference poll suggests, two years after Sweden took in the highest number of refugees per capita in Europe.
With just over a year to go to a general election, Statistics Sweden (SCB) said Thursday that if an election were held today, the Sweden Democrats would garner 18.4 percent of voter support, up almost one percentage point from its previous survey in November.
The party would thereby overtake the conservative Moderates, which were credited with 18.1 percent.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven's Social Democrats party, which has dominated Swedish politics in the postwar period, remains the largest with 31.1 percent support, according to SCB.
The Sweden Democrats have enjoyed a swift rise in public support in recent years, capitalizing on Swedes' frustration over immigration, segregation, crime and security.
They first entered parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of votes, rising to nearly 13 percent in the 2014 election.
But the party has long been shunned by Sweden's political establishment -- all of the parties in parliament have held up a cordon sanitaire around it because of its roots in the neo-Nazi movement.
The head of the conservative Moderates, Anna Kinberg Batra, broke a longstanding taboo in January, when she opened the door for cooperation with the Sweden Democrats, sparking a deep rift within her stunned four-party center-right opposition Alliance.
Since then, the Moderates have seen their support tumble, losing almost five points from SCB's November poll when it garnered 22.8 percent, as calls multiplied within the party for Batra's resignation.
Rejoicing over Thursday's poll numbers, the Sweden Democrats said the other parties would have to begin cooperating with them if they want to win a majority in parliament.
Lofven's government is a minority coalition with the Greens Party, while the four-party opposition Alliance also falls short of a majority.
"There's really no other alternative, and the Moderates have realized that," Mattias Karlsson, the Sweden Democrats parliamentary group leader, told news agency TT.
Over the years, the Moderates, which governed for two consecutive terms until 2014, have consistently lost voters to the Sweden Democrats, forcing them to take a harder stance against immigration.
Yet they have failed to win back those voters.
"The party continues to talk about immigration and immigrants but it hasn't helped it win back Sweden Democrat voters or gain stronger support for its immigration policies," Sweden's main daily Dagens Nyheter wrote in an editorial after SCB's poll was published.
"There will certainly be a discussion about whether the party should change course, but the party is split on that."
Sweden will hold legislative elections in September 2018.

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