© Reuters People cast their votes at a polling station for early voting in the suburb of Ringby, Stockholm, Sweden.
By Niklas Pollard, Simon Johnson and Johan Ahlander
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s right-wing party slipped into its narrowest lead after Sunday’s general election with 90% of the vote counted, the result signaling the formation of a new government after eight years of Social Democrat rule.
Figures on Monday morning showed the moderates, Sweden Democrats, Christian Democrats and liberals won 176 seats in the 349-seat parliament to the centre-left’s 173.
In further evidence of the shift to the right, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are poised to overtake the Moderates as Sweden’s second-largest party and leader of the largest opposition party — a historic shift in a country that prides itself on tolerance and openness.
However, moderate leader Ulf Kristerson may be the right candidate for prime minister.
“We don’t know what the outcome will be,” Christerson told his supporters. But I am ready to do everything in my power to establish a new, stable and strong government for all of Sweden and all of its citizens.
With overseas and some postal votes yet to be counted and the margin between the two blocs slim, the outcome could still change. Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersen did not concede defeat on election night, saying the result was too close to call.
The election official said the first results would be available early Wednesday.
Kristerson has said he wants to form a government with a small group of Christian Democrats and possibly the Liberals, and is relying solely on the support of the Sweden Democrats in parliament. But it can be difficult for him to keep a party that is set to be bigger than himself.
“There seems to be a change of power now. Our desire is to stay in government,” Sweden Democrat leader Jimmy Akesson told cheering supporters at a post-election party after the election.
“Twelve years ago we went into parliament, I think we got 5.7% in the end. Now we got 20.7%.”
Tough on crime
The election campaign has seen parties battle to be tougher on gang crime, with shootings unnerving voters, inflation and the ever-increasing power crisis following the Ukraine invasion.
Law and order issues are for the real home turf, where families and companies have high energy prices and are seen adding Prime Minister Anderson, as a safe pair of hands and more popular than his party. [L8N30D1RY]
Andersson was finance minister for several years before becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister a year ago.
Christerson had positioned himself as the only real candidate who could unify the truth and free her.
to the main line
When Kristerson took over as leader of the Moderates in 2017, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, a white-dominated party among its founders, was ostracized left and right. But Kristerson is slowly strengthening cross-party ties after his 2018 election defeat, and the Sweden Democrats are seen as a mainstream right wing.
The prospect of having a say on government policy or becoming a cabinet member has divided voters in the Sweden Democrats.
“I’m afraid that a repressive, right-wing government will come,” Malin (OTC:) Eriksson (BS:) , a 53-year-old travel consultant, said earlier Sunday at a polling station in central Stockholm.
A strong result for the Sweden Democrats bodes well for the anti-immigration right wing across Europe, where Italy looks set to elect a conservative bloc later this month, including Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FDI) and Matteo Salvini’s League.
“I voted for a change of power,” said Jørgen Hellström, 47, a small business owner, as he voted near parliament. “Taxes need to come down a lot and we need to tackle crime. The last eight years have gone in the wrong direction.”
Whichever party wins, negotiations to form a government in a polarized and emotionally charged political environment are likely to be long and difficult.
If Anderson wants a second term as Prime Minister, she will need support from the Center Party and the Left and Green Party, as well as the Green Party.