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Controversial: Backbench MP Hanif Bali has been credited with the Swedish opposition's u-turn on immigration, and he has gone from unknown to 'celebrity politician' in just over a year

Bearded Iranian child migrant who offends people on Twitter is Swedish opposition’s hope

  • Hanif Bali, 30, has been compared to Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos
  • Backbench MP has a huge following on social media – especially on Twitter
  • Since 2015 he has gone from unknown to household name and power player 
  • Bali has been credited with his party’s drastic change in migration policy 

By – Sara Malm 

When Sweden‘s main opposition party recently made a u-turn on immigration, many credited the new restrictive policies to the increasing influence of one particular backbench MP – and his very controversial Twitter account.

The centre-right Moderate Party now want migrant quotas, higher income thresholds for family-reunification, the right to refuse asylum seekers at the border, and Swedish language and citizenship tests.

These drastic changes had long been pushed for by Hanif Bali, a 30-year-old immigrant MP who has gone from unknown suburban backbencher to being compared to US President Donald Trump in little over a year.

Last June, he had 23,500 followers on Twitter, now it’s over 75,000 – more than many party leaders – and no Swedish politician even comes close in terms of retweets, responses and mentions.

His ‘fans’ praise him for ‘straight-talking’ tweets on integration, immigration and attacks on political opponents, which have seen him compared to alt-right controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos.

Political commentators warn that he is to the Moderate Party what Trump is to the Republicans: A populist pandering to a baying anti-immigration online mob to win voters back from the extreme right-wing Sweden Democrats.

And Bali agrees with the latter – but he does not see this as a bad thing.

‘Of course there is an immediate negative association with Milo and Trump but at the same time, you cannot deny the success of either – or of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK for that matter – in getting their message out.

‘I look at their methods, not their opinions. I’ve not changed my opinion, just my methods.’

Becoming an MP in 2010, aged just 23, Bali explains that he felt like the party could only watch from the sidelines as they lost voters to the Sweden Democrats.

‘In 2006 the Moderates became the New Moderates and moved to the centre, and it opened up for the Sweden Democrats to take the right.

‘The Moderates were scared of what the left and the media was going to think. We didn’t talk about immigration, or talk about the issue with segregation, or how many new arrivals we can feasibly integrate into our society.

‘I noticed that the left wasn’t p****ed off with us anymore – they were busy with the Sweden Democrats – so I decided to take the fight with the left again. That’s why I’m so popular.

Professional troll: The Swedish MP’s Twitter strategy has been compared to US President Donald Trump and alt-right posterboy Milo Yiannopoulos

Bali has been a fierce critic of Sweden’s ‘open your hearts’ immigration policy, which saw 163,000 apply for asylum in 2015. But while his peers in politics argue their cases during parliamentary sessions, Bali prefers tweeting.

He credits his social media success with ‘straight talking’, something that rings a somewhat ominous bell to anyone who followed the 2016 US Presidential elections.

‘People saw everything Hilary said as polished PR bureau talk. And while people thought what Trump said was crazy, no one doubted that what he said was genuinely his words.’

Bali’s incendiary tweets often uses popular alt-right rhetoric, throwing around words such as ‘soyboy’, a derogatory term for an effeminate man, and ‘SJW’ – social justice warrior.

He himself is the son of members of the left-wing militant organisation People’s Mujahedin of Iran. Fearing for his safety, his parents sent him to Sweden – alone – aged three, and he has grown up in foster families in Stockholm’s suburbs, eventually joining the youth wing of the Moderates as a teenager.

Commenting on the European migration crisis, he writes: ‘The sole reason for thousands of migrants selling all they own and heading to Libya and are now stuck there is because the EU has refused to close that route until now. Italy and the EU should have closed it sooner,’ branding Save The Children and other aid organisations ‘refugee smugglers’

When asked why he – an immigrant MP for a centrist liberal-conservative party – is using words almost exclusively found within the fascist alt-right movement, he explains that he has ‘no problem stealing tactics from left or right, from alt-right populism or far left.’

‘Soyboy is a term the alt-right has stolen from the fitness community. It’s not theirs.

‘Alt-right has made it their mission to steal popular internet phenomenons and make them theirs – everything from a cartoon frog to drinking milk – and my idea is to take them back.

‘The alt-right don’t want a metrosexual Iranian mainstream politician stealing their symbols. I want to challenge both the alt-right and the far left. It’s a strategy.’

Bali does not just ‘claim back’ viral language, he frequently makes up his own Twitter buzzwords.

He has called asylum seekers falsely claiming to be unaccompanied minors ‘child role-players’ and migrants forced to live on the streets ‘professionally begging EU tourists’.

But he does not see any issue in using controversial language to win votes.

‘There is a problem with the older generation of politicians who have been taught that there is a ‘correct’ way to do politics, to use language that doesn’t upset people.

‘When politicians describe tackling the migration crisis, gang wars or segregated suburbs as ‘a challenge’, it makes it sound like they don’t see how big the problem is and that they don’t share the voters’ burden, and there is a huge danger in that.’

Since the Moderate Party welcomed a new leader in October, their support is up from 18.1 per cent to 22.2 per cent in the latest national survey.

Sweden heads to the polls in September this year, and Bali seems confident his Twitter strategy will help them to victory.

‘People ask me why I choose to be provocative,  but it’s not important to me whether anyone thinks I’m behaving correctly or not.

‘What is important is that my politics gets through to the voters,’ he adds, clarifying that an election result that puts his party back into power justifies any online means.

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Read more: Published  2017/07/02