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First Somali Swedish Lawmaker Triggers Debate About Tribalism

A Muslim politician little-known even within her own party has surprisingly made her way into the Swedish parliament owing to a clever campaign reaching out to fellow Somalis in their native language.

Leila Ali Elmi, a former Somali refugee, has made history by becoming the first Somali Swedish Muslim woman to become a lawmaker in the Scandinavian country. In achieving this feat with a personal election campaign directed at fellow Somalis, she sparked controversy, triggering a debate about tribalism and “ethnic voting.”

Listed at 21st place in the Green Party, Elmi (30) managed to secure a seat in parliament after a personal campaign targeting Gothenburg’s 14,000 strong Somali community. Elmi ran her Facebook page solely in Somali, frequently met with representatives of the local diaspora and even appeared on Somali TV. She also urged her supporters to vote for other Somali candidates. According to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, members of the local football club called Somalia SK even ran a door-to-door campaign for her.