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Swedes set for knife-edge vote amid far-right surge

Fredrik Sandberg, AFP | Supporters of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats attend a party rally in Motala, in southern Sweden, on Sept. 6, 2018

Sweden votes Sunday in one of its tensest legislative elections in decades. Immigration, and Sweden’s poor handling of the refugee crisis, has led to a surge for the far right. Both the centre-left and the centre-right look to be short of a majority.

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“I think we are facing an extremely complicated process to form a government, maybe the most complicated in modern times,” political scientist Niklas Bohlin at the Mid Sweden University told Reuters.

Since 2012, Sweden has accepted some 400,000 asylum seekers, with the bulk of them entering the Nordic country of 10 million during the 2015 migrant crisis. Although Sweden has since largely closed its borders and introduced tougher rules on migration, the poor integration of those already living in the country has played right into the hands of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who claim migrants are a threat to the country’s famed welfare model.

In a Friday survey conducted by polling institute Novus for national broadcaster SVT, the Sweden Democrats were predicted to get as much as 19.1 percent of the vote – well above the 12.9 percent the party scored in the last election in 2014. Other pollsters have predicted that the party might even win as much as 20 percent or more – a result which would not only mark an historic gain for the anti-immigrant party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement but also make it the second biggest party in Sweden after the Social Democrats. Many of its supporters consist of former Social Democrats and Moderates who feel disillusioned, as well as people in rural areas where industries and public services have been cut back.

Waning support for Social Democrats

In the past two elections, support for the Social Democrats, which have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s, dropped to around 30 percent. According to pollsters, it is now on course to register one of its worst election results ever, dwindling down to somewhere in the mid-20s.

Since 2014, the Social Democrats have been leading a minority government with the Greens, and have a parliamentary ally in the Left Party.

The Novus poll predicted the centre-left bloc led by the Social Democrats to win 39.5 percent, while the four-party centre-right opposition (known as the “Alliance”, consisting of conservative Moderates, Liberals, Centre and Christian Democrats) stood at around 38.5 percent.

If those predictions come true on Sunday, neither of the two blocs are set for a majority and would need to seek support elsewhere to pass legislation. To do so, the two blocs could be forced to try to cooperate with each other, or accommodate the Sweden Democrats in some ways.

Quarter of voters remain undecided

The Sweden Democrats have repeatedly said they are willing to collaborate with either of the two blocs, as long as the party can shape the country's immigration policy. So far, however, none of the parties have been willing to negotiate with them.

The Sweden Democrats have warned both the Social Democrats and the Moderates that they can't go on seeing them "as a passing illness that has temporarily afflicted parliament”. The party entered parliament in 2010.

A Wednesday survey by national polling institute Sifo showed that more than a quarter of Sweden’s 7.5 million eligible voters still remain undecided.

In order to avoid a Sweden Democrats dependence scenario, however, the race for both blocks is now in full swing to compete with the far-right for voters.

Aside from immigration and integration, the issues of healthcare, climate change and education have been hot potatoes during the election campaign.

In an op-ed published in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter earlier this week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven urged Swedes to vote for a "stable government ... capable of leading Sweden in uncertain times”.

"Healthcare queues are too long in some areas, unemployment among foreign-born people is still too high, and crime and insecurity need to be curbed," he said.

In the past few days, he has also opened up for a cross-bloc collaboration with the Centre and Liberals.

Many political observers suggest the most likely outcome of the elections would be a new Lofven government, but with an even weaker minority than it has now.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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