Swedes go to the polls in close election

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  • Social Democrat Prime Minister Andersson facing right-wing opposition
  • Kristersson of the Moderates has allied with the Swedish Democrats
  • Campaigns focus on crime and cost of living crisis
  • Opinion polls show the blocs are neck and neck
  • Polling stations close at 6:00 p.m. GMT

STOCKHOLM, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Swedes voted on Sunday in an election pitting the incumbent centre-left Social Democrats against a right-wing bloc that embraced the anti-immigration Swedish Democrats as it tries to retake the power after eight years in opposition. .

With an ever-increasing number of shootings riling voters, the campaign saw parties fight to be toughest on gang crime, while soaring inflation and the energy crisis following the invasion of Ukraine have increasingly taken center stage.

“I fear very much the arrival of a repressive, very right-wing government,” Malin Ericsson, 53, a travel consultant, said outside a polling station in central Stockholm.

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Opinion polls show the centre-left neck and neck with the right-wing bloc and suggest the Swedish Democrats will be the second largest party behind the Social Democrats, overtaking the moderate Conservatives. Read more

Pediatrician Erik George, 52, said he believed the election campaign had been marked by a rise in populism. “I think times are really tumultuous and people are having a hard time understanding what’s going on,” he said outside the polling station.

For others, the primary goal is change. “There are already a lot of things that are hurting Sweden and there is still a lot to do,” said Johan Hudson, a 50-year-old forestry worker. “We have to start from scratch.”

While law and order is the domain of the right, the buildup of economic storm clouds as households and businesses face sky-high electricity prices could boost the Prime Minister Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson, seen as a safer pair of hands and more popular than her own party. Read more

“My clear message is this: during the pandemic, we have supported Swedish businesses and households. I will act in exactly the same way again if I get your renewed trust,” she said this week during one of the last debates before the vote.

Andersson served as finance minister for many years before becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister a year ago. His main rival is the leader of the Moderates, Ulf Kristersson, who considers himself the only one who can unite the right and overthrow it.

Kristersson has spent years deepening his ties with the Swedish Democrats, an anti-immigration party with white supremacists among its founders. Initially shunned by all the other parties, the Swedish Democrats are now increasingly part of the mainstream right. Read more

“This election is very much about how we fight crime,” Kristersson told Reuters on the sidelines of one of his latest campaign rallies. “If people vote for change, we will bring change.”

For many centre-left voters – and even some on the right – the prospect of Sweden’s Jimmie Akesson Democrats having a say in government policy or joining the cabinet remains deeply troubling.

Kristersson wants to form a government with the small Christian Democrats and, possibly, the Liberals, and only count on the support of the Swedish Democrats in parliament. But these are assurances that the centre-left does not take literally.

Uncertainty looms over the election, with the two blocs facing long and difficult negotiations to form a government amid a polarized and emotionally charged political landscape.

Andersson will need to win support from the Center Party and the Left, who are ideological opposites, and likely the Green Party as well, if she wants a second term as prime minister.

“I have quite a few red lines,” said Annie Loof, whose Center Party split from Kristersson over her affiliation with the Swedish Democrats, in a recent SVT interview.

“A red line I have is that I will never pass up a government that gives influence to the Swedish Democrats.”

Voting closes at 6:00 p.m. GMT with a preliminary official result expected around 9:00 p.m. GMT.

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Additional reporting by Janis Laizans, Isabella Ronca, Terje Solsvik and Anna Ringstrom, editing by William Maclean, Elaine Hardcastle, Catherine Evans

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