Far-right tipped to win big in Sweden vote due to backlash over immigration policy
Polls suggest the right-wing Sweden Democrats party could grab as much as 25 per cent of the ballots
Swedes go to the polls in legislative elections on Sunday, with the far-right expected to post a record score as voters unhappy about immigration punish one of the few remaining left-wing governments in Europe.
Polling institutes have suggested support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) could be up to 25 per cent, giving it significant influence and making it impossible to predict the make-up of the next government.
The party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement has called the arrival of almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012 a threat to Swedish culture that is straining country’s generous welfare state.
The traditionally two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and the conservative Moderates, were together predicted to win around 40 per cent of votes, down by 10 percentage points from the last elections in 2014.
Candidates from the eight parties campaigned to the 11th hour on Saturday, targeting in particular undecided voters, who make up an estimated 20 per cent of those eligible to vote, according to pollsters.
“I’m still hesitating between the Moderates and SD. SD is quite close to the Moderates but they’re a little more clear in what they want. They’re more direct,” said Elias, an 18-year-old voting for the first time.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has repeatedly called the legislative elections a “referendum on the future of the welfare state”.
But the far-right has presented it as a vote on immigration and integration, after Sweden took in more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone, a per capita record in Europe.
On the eve of the election, Lofven condemned “hateful forces” in Sweden. He urged voters to “think about how they wanted to use their time on Earth”, calling on them to “stand on the right side of history”.
Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson meanwhile said after the election, the country would need “a strong cross-bloc cooperation to isolate the forces … pushing for Sweden to withdraw from international cooperation”.
In southern Sweden, an SD stronghold, party leader Jimmie Akesson campaigned among throngs of supporters as detractors booed him and shouted “No racists on our streets.”
“We’re now competing against the Social Democrats and Moderates to become the biggest party in the country,” he said, dismissing the protesters as “communists”.
Polling stations across the country closed at 8:00pm local time, with first estimates expected soon afterwards. Final results were expected before midnight, but the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.
Neither Lofven’s “red-green” bloc nor the opposition centre-right four-party Alliance (Moderates, Centre, Liberals and Christian Democrats) were expected to win a majority in parliament.
Long negotiations will be needed to build a majority, or at least a minority that will not be toppled by the opposition.
Lofven, whose minority government made up of the Social Democrats and the Greens with the informal support of the ex-communist Left Party, has managed to hang onto power by sealing deals with the right-wing on energy and immigration, among other things.
But the opposition is intent on ousting Lofven, with some Moderates willing to go so far as to put an end to SD’s pariah status and open negotiations with them.
That could prove fatal for the Alliance, with the Liberal and Centre parties repeatedly ruling out a deal with “the devil”, as Akesson occasionally calls himself.
In an interview with AFP during the campaign, Akesson stressed he would “lay down his terms” after the election, citing immigration policy, crime-fighting and health care as priorities.