Far-right surge in Sweden

Source:AFP Published: 2018/9/9 22:28:39

Immigration policy seen as the key election issue

Voters mark their ballots at a polling station during the Swedish general elections in Stockholm on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Swedes voted in legislative elections Sunday with a far-right surge expected if voters punish traditional parties over their failure to address immigration concerns.

Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has called the election a "referendum on the future of the welfare state" but the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) have presented it as vote on immigrants, after Sweden took in almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012.

Opinion polls suggest SD could garner between 16 and 25 percent of the vote, rendering it almost impossible to predict the make-up of the next government.

The party, with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, has said the ­arrival of asylum seekers is a threat to Swedish culture and claimed they put a strain on the country's welfare system­.

As he cast his ballot in Stockholm on Sunday, Lofven urged Swedes not to vote for the "racist party."

"It's ... about decency, about a decent democracy. And the Social Democrats and a Social Democratic-led government is a guarantee for not letting the Sweden Democrats extremist party, racist party, get any influence in the government."

The Social Democrats, traditionally the biggest party and who have led a minority government with the Greens, have lost support on both the left and the right and are tipped to post their lowest score since 1911.

Anna Berglund, a 28-year-old lawyer who voted for the small Centre Party at a polling station in Stockholm's upscale Ostermalm neighborhood, said SD's mounting support was "bad news."

"I'm afraid we're becoming a society that is more hostile to foreigners. I don't like it."

In Rinkeby, a disadvantaged suburb north of Stockholm home to a strong immigrant population, locals were also concerned.

Up to 20 percent of the 7.5 million eligible voters were undecided before the vote, according to pollsters.

Neither Lofven's "red-green" bloc nor Kristersson's opposition centre-right four-party Alliance (Moderates, Center, Liberals and Christian Democrats) were expected to win a majority.

Lengthy negotiations will be needed to build a government that won't be toppled by the opposite.

The opposition is intent on ousting Lofven, with some Moderates willing to go so far as to put an end to SD's pariah status and open negotiations with them.

That could prove fatal for the Alliance, with the Liberal and Centre parties repeatedly ruling out a deal with "the devil," as Akesson occasionally calls himself. None of the seven other parties have been willing to negotiate with SD.

Polling stations close at 8:00 pm, with first estimates expected soon afterwards.

Final results are due before midnight, but the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.

Posted in: EUROPE

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