Sweden goes to the polls with far right set to hold balance of power
The Observer Sweden Sweden goes to the polls with far right set to hold balance of power
Surge in support for populists will see realignment of politics after too-close-to-call vote
Polling stations have opened in Sweden in elections likely to force a historic realignment in the nationâs politics, as support for the established centre-right and centre -left blocs slumps in the face of a surge by the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.
Late polls showed that the race was too close to call, with the outgoing Social Democrat-Green coalition of the prime minister, Stefan LÃ¶fven, and its ex-communist Left party parliamentary allies on about 40-41% of the vote, and the four-party centre-right opposition, led by the Moderates, two to three points behind.
But with more than a quarter of the countryâs 7.5 million voters still undecided and the true level of support for the Sweden Democrats notoriously hard to judge â" recent polls have put the nationalist party on anything between 16% and 25% â" the outcome remains far from certain.
âThe only thing thatâs sure is that the Sweden Democrats will do a lot better than the 13% they got last time around,â said Niklas Bolin, a political scientist at Mid Sweden University specialising in the radical right.
âThat could mean an extremely complicated process to form a government, perhaps the most complicated weâve seen.â
With neither mainstream bloc on course for a majority in the 349-seat Riksdag, some form of cooperation between the two, or an informal accommodation with the Sweden Democrats, will be needed to pass legislation.
But the centre left and centre right have never been in coalition together, and all other parties have pledged to continue shunning the populists, who â" although purged of their most openly racist and neo-fascist elements over the past decade â" had their early roots in Swedenâs Nazi movement.
With far-right, anti-immigration, nation-first and populist parties making advances across Europe and now in government in Italy, Austria, Norway and Finland, the election, in a country long seen as a model of political stability, is being closely watched as the latest test of anti-establishment sentiment on the continent.
In a campaign dominated by immigration, integration, c rime, healthcare and education, the Sweden Democrats have rarely strayed from their core message: that the 400,000 asylum seekers Sweden has welcomed since 2012 â" the most, per head of population, of any European country â" are straining the countryâs generous welfare state to breaking point.
But recent research by Stockholm University found that, as elsewhere in Europe, both the Eurosceptic, anti-immigration partyâs politicians and its voters fall into categories whose employment and overall economic situations have worsened after the 2008 financial crisis.
In the leadersâ final debate this week, the partyâs leader, Jimmie Ã kesson, said: âWhy is it so difficult for these migrants to get a job? That is because theyâre not Swedish. They canât adjust to Sweden.â
LÃ¶fven, whose Social Democrats have finished first in every Swedish election since 1917 but are forecast to slide to a historic low of barely 25% of the vote, on Friday accused the Sweden Democrats of racism, and repeated a longstanding pledge never to cooperate with them.
âWe are not going to retreat one millimetre in the face of hatred and extremism wherever it shows itself,â he said. âAgain and again and again, they show their Nazi and racist roo ts, and they are trying to destroy the EU at a time when we need that cooperation the most.â
LÃ¶fven has suggested he could be open to some form of cross-bloc arrangement with two smaller centre-right opposition parties, the Centre and Liberal parties.
Polls suggest that up to a third of Moderate party voters would back the inclusion of the Sweden Democrats in a new government.
But the party leader, Ulf Kristersson, has also refused to contemplate any tie-up, however informal, with the populists, who have said they will work with anyone but would demand policy concessions particularly on immigration.
Some analysts believe that polling companies may be underestimating the strength of support for the Sweden Democrats. Traditional polls, based on phone calls, suggest the party will win 16-19% of the vote â" but badly underestimated its performance in 2014. Online surveys, which came much closer to the populistsâ actual score, suggest a score of up to 25 %.
Polling stations close at 8pm, with first estimates expected soon afterwards and final results due before midnight, but the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.Topics
- The Observer
- The far right
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