A nationalist party denounced as “neo-fascists” by Sweden’s centre-left government has become the country’s second-largest, pushing the opposition right into a slim lead in parliamentary elections that remain too close to call.
A preliminary result is not expected until Wednesday, but with 94 percent of the votes counted, the right-wing bloc had a lead of less than one percentage point over the center-left ruling group led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who have shunned them for most of the past decade, are surely the biggest party on the right, behind only Andersson’s Social Democrats, who have been first in every election since 1917.
“Our ambition is to sit in the government,” said Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats.
The party, which has its roots in the neo-Nazi movement, was despised by all other parties until the last parliament, when its tough law and order and immigration policies began to attract support from the centre-right.
An unusually tough campaign focused on gang crime and immigration after a record number of deadly shootings in troubled suburbs has pushed Sweden to the top of such statistics in Europe.
If the right-wing leadership is confirmed, the group’s four parties will face an uphill task to form a coherent government due to their slim majority and infighting.
Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the center-right mainstream Moderates, which fell to third place for the first time since 1976, is the favorite for prime minister but will have to contend with an emboldened nationalist party that won more votes.
“I am ready to do everything I can to create a new, stable and efficient government for everyone Sweden and all citizens,” he said early Monday morning.
Nicholas Aylott, a senior lecturer at Södertörn University, called the results “historic” for the Sweden Democrats and said it would be an “absolute blow to the body” for moderates. He added: “Probably, a stable, strong, decisive government cannot be expected [from the election]but not chaos.”
The country’s politics have been tumultuous since the Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010. The ruling Social Democrats have twice been forced to rule through opposition right-wing budgets, while Andersson herself had to resign as prime minister last year after only seven hours in that position, before being re-elected a week later.
The Social Democrats campaigned less on the issues and more on the image of Andersson, who only became prime minister in November and by far the most popular politician in the country.
Two of the biggest recent controversies — whether Sweden should join NATO and how the country is handling Covid-19 — barely featured in a campaign that was instead defined by tough promises on immigration and crime and an intense late-night focus on high electricity prices.
Despite their eight-year rule, the Social Democrats increased their share of the vote to 30.5 percent, up more than 2 percentage points from 2018. The Sweden Democrats were the biggest winners, increasing their share by more than 3 percentage points to 20.7 percent , while moderates fell slightly to 19.1 percent.
Five smaller parties in parliament on the left and right will retain their status after winning 4-7 percent each.