Officials say Sweden’s split election is too close to call

HALMSTAD, Sweden – A tight political race in Sweden has prompted the Swedish Elections Authority to delay the announcement of the primary results as votes continue to be counted, with a coalition of right-wing parties leading the way. head of the ruling center-left bloc early Monday morning.

With 94% of the votes cast in the constituencies counted, election officials say they have yet to tally the ballots submitted and early votes from foreign nationals and that the results of the primaries will not be available. Wednesday at the earliest.

The right-wing coalition is leading with a three-seat majority early Monday; however, some early voting predicted a victory for the ruling centre-left bloc, led by the Social Democrats.

Although the Social Democrats were the party with the most votes, the far-right, anti-immigration Swedish Democrats came in second for the first time, just ahead of the moderate Conservatives.

The delay in announcing the results comes after an unusually antagonistic election campaign, characterized by the growing popularity of the far-right Swedish Democrats and their influence on the competition for the election. voters between the right and centre-left blocs.

Given the proximity of the race and the unusually fragile negotiations ahead of the vote, forming a governing coalition could take some time.

Over the past four years, the barrier between the Swedish Democratic Party, once a fringe party, and seven other parties has dissolved. In 2018, no other party wants to touch the Swedish Democrats. But gradually, the three right-wing parties have agreed to some form of cooperation with the far-right group. The Center Party is the only party from the former centre-right coalition that has steadfastly rejected any form of cooperation with the Swedish Democratic Party.

“It was an important election because the Swedish Democratic Party had reached a stage where they made other parties accept them,” said Li Bennich-Björkman, a political scientist at Uppsala University.

The election also comes after a year of polarizing political changes, including Sweden tries to join NATO, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the resignation of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. Mr Lofven returned to government after a vote of no confidence, but lawmakers replaced him with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson last November.

In the race, lawmakers ultimately focused on concerns about health care, energy prices and rising crime, an issue that has sparked fierce debates about immigration and integration.

The focus on crime is prominent in a country where ideological conflict has traditionally focused on taxes, the economy, and government interests. “But now it is a cultural dimension related to migration, identity and morality,” said Henrik Oscarsson, a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg.

Jonas Hinnfors, also a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, said: “This is a very toxic campaign, and adds that the closeness of the race has led to unusual debates.

As the elections drew near, the centre-left Social Democrats – already in power without a majority in the National Assembly – found themselves in a precarious position, barely clinging to the lead over the other parties. Opposition parties.

Adding to the uneasiness is the possibility of the Swedish Democrats, who are working to censor their images, reap significant benefits.

The rise of the Swedish Democratic party began in 2010, when it passed the parliamentary threshold of 4% with 5.7% of the vote. In 2014 and 2018, its vote share increased to 12.9 and 17.5%, respectively. Winning over workers from the Social Democrats and small businesses from the Moderate Party, polls in this election show the party poised to win the second largest number of seats in Congress.

Under the 17-year leadership of Jimmie Akesson, the party has attempted to soften its image, including changing the party’s emblem from a flaming torch to a soft flower. This year, the party, founded in 1988, published a look at its origins, the “White Book,” in which the party admits to having its roots in Nazi ideology.

Mr. Akesson admitted in an interview with Sveriges Radio that the portraits of founding members in the “White Book” did not make “readers comfortable”.

The dynamics of change have disrupted traditional coalitions, with the conservative Center Party saying it will break with the centre-right coalition in support of the Social Democrats. It also resulted in campaigners calling for undecided voters between the two strongholds, the Social Democrats and the Moderate Party.

Fearing losing voters to right-wing parties, the Social Democrats have become more conservative on issues such as law and order, education and immigration, analysts said. work with more progressive factions. They have also proposed compulsory preschool for children who are not fluent in Swedish to speed the acquisition of language skills.

In an unusual attack, the ruling Social Democrats explicitly warned voters at a press conference last week about the risks of voting for the Swedish Democrats. Meanwhile, Mr Akesson, leader of the far-right party, has blamed the Social Democrats for high fuel prices and crime.

In some ways, analysts say, the campaign has become a contest for popularity between Andersson, the first woman to serve as prime minister of Sweden, and Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party. . Framing an election as a competition between two main party members is a setting more familiar to American voters.

“It has become more American in the sense that prime ministerial candidates are being discussed,” said Josefina Erikson, a political scientist at Uppsala University.

In the end, voters must decide whether to keep the long-standing status quo of a liberal coalition led by the Social Democrats or to bet on a new direction heralded by right-wing parties.

Anky Havel Trulsen, 48, said: “Navigating this year’s election is more difficult because of the instability between parties, says Anky Havel Trulsen, 48.

Although she voted for the Social Democrats, she says she understands why the Swedish Democrats are popular. “I disagree with all of their politics except some,” she said. “People are not happy and a lot of people express it by voting for the Swedish Democratic Party.”

In previous years, it took only a few days to form a government in Sweden, Professor Oscarsson said. That was not the case in 2018, he said, when it took more than four months to form a centre-left coalition.

“That tells the story of one of the most politically stable countries in the world in trouble,” said Professor Oscarsson. “And of course due to the rise of the Swedish Democratic Party.”

On the far right there are unresolved things, says Professor Erikson. “We’ve got these two blocks and it’s pretty predictable,” she said. “Now we have an unpredictable situation.”

Christina Anderson reported from Halmdstad, and Isabella Kwai from London.

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