All eyes on far right as Swedes vote in tight polls
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Sweden votes in a general election on Sunday, with polls narrowly favouring the ruling centre-right coalition over the opposition Red-Green bloc. But all eyes are on the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who may win their first seats in parliament.
Swedes are voting Sunday in parliamentary elections that have been described as the country’s most unpredictable in decades.
The incumbent centre-right coalition is expected to win by a narrow margin. But the Islam-bashing far-right Sweden Democrats are tipped to win seats in parliament for the first time, which could cost the government its majority.
Opinion polls in the run-up to Sunday’s vote showed the governing coalition of Moderates, Liberals, Centre and Christian Democrats just scraping a majority against the opposition Red-Green bloc.
But the margin, according to FRANCE 24’s Markus Karlsson, reporting from Sweden, is “razor-thin”, making it likely that a strong swing to the right could cost Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's Alliance for Sweden its majority.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 before the vote, Reinfeldt stressed that the country needed a majority government to consolidate the economic gains the affluent EU nation had made.
“It's still an open race, so we are trying to get around and talk to the people about the need for majority rule in Sweden,” Reinfeldt told FRANCE 24.
At his final rally before polls opened, Reinfeldt pointedly urged Swedes to ensure that the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats be kept out of parliament.
“We want to be clear and say: those who like Sweden will not vote for the Sweden Democrats tomorrow,” said Reinfeldt. “If you want to wake up on Monday with a stable, majority government then it is the Alliance government which is the answer.”
Lowering taxes or preserving the welfare system
Sweden’s rapid recovery from the global financial crisis has boosted Reinfeldt’s government, suggesting a victory over the opposition Red-Green bloc.
In the last elections, in 2006, Reinfeldt’s coalition defeated the Social Democrats on a platform of lowering taxes for working Swedes while trimming welfare benefits. Analysts say the government has, for the most, delivered on its promises.
But Social Democratic leader Mona Sahlin, who aims to become Sweden's first female prime minister, maintains that the government’s policies are dismantling the country’s welfare system and widening the gaps between rich and poor.
A more politically correct xenophobic party
The “crunch point” of Sunday’s election though, according to Karlsson, is denying the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats a kingmaker role.
Immigrants make up 14 percent of the country’s 9.4 million population. The largest immigrant group is from neighbouring Finland, followed by people from Iraq, the former Yugoslavia and Poland.
The Sweden Democrats maintain that immigration has been ignored as an issue in Swedish politics.
The party has traditionally viewed immigration an economic burden, draining the welfare system and channelling jobs to newcomers who work for lower wages.
According to Karlsson, over the past few years, the party has managed to widen its appeal. “This used to be seen as a party for skinheads,” said Karlsson. “But now they seem to be men in suits. Party leader Jimme Akesson has been credited for toning down their arguments and their language and he’s also thrown out some of the more radical elements from the party,” said Karlsson.