(Bloomberg) – Sweden’s right-wing opposition took the lead in Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s camp in the general election after a late push by an anti-immigration party that eroded the dominance of its Social Democrats.
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A bloc that includes the nationalist Swedish Democrats is expected to win 175 mandates in the 349-seat parliament in Sunday’s vote, compared to 174 for the alliance that would be led by the ruling party, the country’s electoral authority said after the preliminary tally with 5,132 of 6,578 neighborhoods surveyed.
The data follows exit polls that gave Andersson’s bloc a slight edge in what was expected to be a very tight race between the two camps in the Nordic nation. Sweden’s Democrats, led by Jimmie Akesson, are heading for their best ever result – emerging as the country’s second-largest political force – while Andersson’s party is set to remain the biggest in parliament.
The Swedish nationalists’ gains are emblematic of a wider shift in European politics. While French President Emmanuel Macron’s alliance remained the largest bloc in April’s legislative elections, the far-right National Rally fared much better than expected. Italy’s right-wing Brothers of Italy party, whose roots go back to Italy’s post-fascist movement, leads the right-wing coalition that looks set to land a landslide victory in the September 25 election, according to the latest opinion polls.
Sweden’s Democrats campaigned on a promise to “make Sweden safe again”, introducing longer prison sentences and minimizing immigration, as well as supporting the construction of new nuclear reactors.
After the 2018 elections, it took Andersson’s predecessor, Stefan Lofven, four months to form a government as the country’s traditional political blocs imploded following the emergence of Sweden’s Democrats, who fragmented the electoral landscape.
Akesson, 43, joined the anti-immigrant party in 1995, eight years after it formed as part of Sweden’s far-right, neo-Nazi scene, and he played a pivotal role in bringing the group into parliament, where it obtained its first seats. in 2010.
During his 17 years in office, the nationalist leader sought to make his party more acceptable by eliminating extremists and abandoning some controversial policies, including more restrictive policies on abortion and a demand for Sweden to leave the European Union.
“For the first time, we have a real chance not only to be an opposition party, but also to be part of a new government that can steer politics in a new direction,” Richard Jomshof told SVT. , party secretary of the Swedish Democrats.
The largest Nordic nation, topping most global welfare rankings, has sought to be a safe haven in recent decades by welcoming waves of immigrants. Parties across the political spectrum took a tougher stance on migrants after Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015.
While the emergence of the Nationalist Party has followed the country’s growing difficulties in integrating immigrants, gang-related violence and crime have taken over in recent years as a driver of support for Sweden’s Democrats.
Andersson, 55, pledged to expand police forces as part of efforts to stem a wave of gang-related gun violence, compensate consumers and businesses affected by soaring electricity costs and to ban profit taking in Swedish private schools. Since taking office late last year, his approval ratings have been consistently high, helping his party secure its position as Sweden’s largest party.
A former young swimmer who changes into trainers to move between government offices, Andersson has shown pragmatism in the 9 months since becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister. She led her party through a painful process of abandoning opposition to Sweden’s inclusion in military alliances, backing an application for NATO membership this year.
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If Andersson were to win after all, when all the votes are counted, she will still face the daunting task of crafting a platform her supporters can agree on. His potential allies run the gamut from former communists from the Left Party to the liberal Center Party, which is determined to keep leftists out of the cabinet.
(Updates with preliminary tally by election authority.)
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