Swedish Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats Magdalena Andersson (L) and leader of the conservative Moderate party Ulf Kristersson debate on September 10, 2022, one day ahead of the general elections

Close Swedish elections predicted to lead to surge of far-right

Swedish Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson (left) and leader of the conservative Moderate Party Ulf Kristersson debate on September 10, 2022, the day before the general election – Copyright AFP Dave Chan

Johannes LEDEL

Swedes are voting Sunday in legislative elections that will either pave the way for an unprecedented right-wing government backed by the far right or a third consecutive mandate for the ruling Social Democrats.

Opinion polls predicted a close race with a narrow margin over Social Democrats Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and the left bloc after a campaign dominated by gang shootings and skyrocketing electricity prices.

Polling stations open at 08:00 (06:00 GMT) and close at 20:00, with final results around midnight.

The right-wing bloc has never before agreed to cooperate with the nationalist and anti-immigration Swedish Democrats, who until recently were considered “outcasts” by other political parties.

In the final weeks of the campaign, the far right came second in opinion polls behind the Social Democrats, with about a fifth of the vote.

Their surge – overtaking the traditional leaders of the right bloc, the conservative moderates – has been attributed to an election race focused on issues close to their constituents, including crime, segregation and immigrant integration.

However, Prime Minister Andersson, 55, hopes to hold on to power with the backing of small left, center and green parties.

Speaking to reporters at a rally ahead of the vote in Rinkeby, a troubled Stockholm suburb, she said she hoped the campaign had convinced voters “that the Social Democrats are a party for the common people, for the workers, with good social safety nets, good jobs and a good future.” “.

“This is a very tight race, so the decision is up to the Swedes,” she added.

– Difficult days ahead –

Andersson, whose party has dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s, enjoys broad support among Swedes.

She consistently defeated her prime ministerial challenger, moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, by wide margins in the polls.

However, opinion polls put the two blocs in near equal footing, predicting 49.7 to 51.6 percent of voter support for the left and 47.6 to 49.4 percent for the right.

Kristersson is the architect of the major right flank turn.

He began preliminary talks with the Swedish Democrats in 2019 and deepened their cooperation before two other small right-wing parties, the Christian Democrats and, to a lesser extent, the Liberals, followed suit.

“As it stands, we have two pretty clear blocs,” political analyst Katharina Barrling told AFP, noting it would be pretty easy to predict the next prime minister after election night.

However, both blocs are plagued by internal divisions that could lead to laborious negotiations for a coalition government.

“There are a few red lines for parties within blocs that could stall the process,” Barrling said.

The previous elections in 2018 ended in a political stalemate that lasted four months until the Social Democrats managed to form a minority government.

This time it will be a nightmare scenario.

In addition to a looming economic crisis with inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, Sweden is currently in the delicate process of joining NATO and is due to take over the EU presidency in 2023.

“Today, the need for a unified and effective government is greater than in past elections,” Barrling said.

– “Great shift” –

The end of the Swedish Democrats’ political isolation and the prospect of them becoming the largest right-wing party is “a huge shift in Swedish society,” said Anders Lindberg, editor of the left-wing tabloid Aftonbladet.

Born from a neo-Nazi movement in the late 1980s, the Swedish Democrats entered Parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of the vote. In 2018, they won 17.5 percent.

This time around, his strong performance in the opinion polls comes as Sweden struggles to deal with a growing number of shootings linked to the fight for the drug and arms market.

Now the country leads the European statistics in the number of deaths from firearms.

While the violence was once limited to places frequented by criminals, it has spread to public places like parks and shopping malls, raising concerns among ordinary Swedes in a country long known to be safe and peaceful.

In one of the campaign’s final debates, Kristersson lashed out at the Social Democrats for doing “almost nothing” to curb banditry since taking power in 2014.

But Andersson, who took over as prime minister just nine months ago after seven years as finance minister, said she was just getting started.

“Now I’m asking for a mandate from the Swedish people to show what I can do in four years.”

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