Sweden in political gridlock as anti-immigrant, far-right party makes gains

Sweden in political gridlock as anti-immigrant, far-right party makes gains
The make-up of the new government is up in the air after both the left-wing and centre-right blocs failed to win a majority.
3 min read
10 September, 2018
Jimmie Akesson of the Sweden Democrats speaks at the election party [Getty]

Sweden's anti-immigrant, far-right made gains in legislative elections Sunday and vowed to exert "real influence" as kingmaker, after both the left-wing and centre-right blocs failed to obtain a majority and the make-up of the next government remained up in the air.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven invited the centre-right opposition Alliance to talks aimed at a "cross-bloc cooperation", after his Social Democrats remained the biggest party with 28.4 percent of votes, its weakest election score in a century.

He said the election result marked "the death of bloc politics" in Sweden. 

At the head of one of the few left-wing governments in Europe, Lofven's bloc appeared to hold 144 of 349 seats in parliament, one seat more than the Alliance, with votes in 99.8 percent of districts counted.

Both were short of the 175 needed for a majority.

Just 30,000 votes separated the two blocs. But some 200,000 votes from Swedes who live abroad, which could tip the balance, were only to be counted Wednesday.

The four-party Alliance - made up of the conservative Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Centre - rejected Lofven's invite, urging him to resign as it reiterated its determination to form its own government.

Meanwhile, the far-right Sweden Democrats, who have capitalised on voters' frustration over immigration after the country welcomed almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012, were seen making steady gains, rising from 12.9 percent in 2014 to 17.6 percent.

The party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement has called the arrival of asylum seekers a threat to Swedish culture and claims they are straining Sweden's generous welfare state.

'Real influence'

"We have strengthened our role as kingmaker... We are going to gain real influence over Swedish politics," Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson told cheering supporters at an election night party.

The Sweden Democrats remain the third-biggest party - failing to overtake the Moderates - and were credited with 17.6 percent of the vote, below the 20 to 30 percent Akesson had hoped to win.

Marine Le Pen of France's far-right National Rally - formerly known as the National Front - hailed the Swedish party's rise.

"Yet another bad night ahead for the European Union. The democratic revolution in Europe is moving forward!" she tweeted.

Lofven had called the election a "referendum on the future of the welfare state", but the far right presented it as a vote on immigrants and their integration.

Around 18.5 percent of Sweden's population of 10 million was born abroad, according to Statistics Sweden.

Lofven had urged Swedes not to vote for what he called a "racist party" as he cast his ballot Sunday.

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