Sweden's Election Takes Right Turn

Ulf Kristersson the leader of the Moderates shakes hands with a voter

Ulf Kristersson the leader of the Moderates shakes hands with a voter

A preliminary count in Sweden's general election on Sunday shows a populist, anti-immigrant party making gains in parliament at the expense of the nation's governing center-left coalition.

For those predicting a decisive right-wing triumph, the ultimate result didn't quite live up to the hype.

Instead, Sunday's results effectively provided no clear victor and no convenient or simple narrative to explain the shifts underway in Swedish politics.

A radical right wing group with a neo-Nazi past was set to become Sweden's second largest party on Sunday night, after exit polls suggested it had won almost 20 per cent of the vote.

It would have to either make policy concessions in exchange for the Sweden Democrats' support or offer key positions on parliamentary committees that draft legislation.

The ruling centre-left Social Democrats were in the lead with 26.2 per cent of the votes, down from 31 per cent in the 2014 election and its lowest score in a century.

If the Sweden Democrats were included in the conservative bloc, there would be a large conservative majority in this election. They have never before received more than 13 percent of the vote in a Riksdag election, though their vote has been rising rapidly in recent years.

With 84.4 percent of votes counted, the Sweden Democrats had 17.6 percent of the vote compared to 28.4 for the Social Democrats, according to the Sweden public broadcaster SVT.

The Sweden Democrats have promised to sink any government that refuses to give them a say in policy, particularly on immigration. "So we really have to solve it now".

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An exit poll showed that nearly a fifth of the far-right voters cast their ballots for the Social Democrats the last election. Under the current leader, Jimmie Akesson, who took over in 2005, the party insists it has no tolerance for racist or xenophobic rhetoric and routinely kicks out members discovered to be espousing openly racist sentiments (which, to be fair, still happens quite often).

The potentially promising prospects of the far-right Sweden Democrats had many other Swedes anxious about an erosion of the humanitarian values that have always been a foundation of the Scandinavian country's identity. Voters might see the Sweden Democrats as the country's only opposition party.

It would also make them the biggest populist party in the Nordic region, topping the Danish People's Party, which gained 21 per cent in 2015, and would trump the 12.6 per cent for the far-right Alternative for Germany, which swept into the Bundestag previous year. The SD has argued that the high number of migrants taken in by Sweden is driving up crime and putting the welfare system at risk.

Mainstream politicians have so far ruled out cooperation with the Sweden Democrats. "The Sweden Democrats, they've divided people up into us and them".

The center-right Moderates have become especially tough on immigration, echoing numerous positions of the Sweden Democrats. And this wasn't just campaign speak.

Mainstream politicians have so far rebuffed him. "What I can exclude is any direct or indirect co-operation with the Sweden Democrats", Interior Minister Anders Ygeman, a Social Democrat said.

Sunday's election left the two rival blocs - a center-left group and a center-right alliance - with roughly 40 percent of the vote each, portending what is likely to be weeks of uncertainty and complex coalition talks before a new government can be formed.

During a heated debate Friday evening, party leader Jimmie Akesson caused a stir by saying migrants have trouble finding jobs because "they can't adjust to Sweden". He could try to build a similar government to 2014: a minority coalition with the Greens that relies on informal support in parliament from the ex-communist Left Party. They'll "have to face the facts", Andersson said. Emilia Orpana said she and another party supporter were threatened by two young men who called them 'damned racists'.

Politicians in Sweden will now "need a lot of imagination" to form a government, daily Svenska Dagbladet wrote.

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