Sweden’s parliamentary elections are too close to call after exit polls showed a tiny lead for the ruling centre-left while a radical nationalist party looks set to be the biggest party on the rightwing.
The exit poll for state broadcaster SVT gave 49.8 per cent to the leftwing bloc and 49.2 per cent to the rightwing just after polls closed on Sunday evening.
The nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are forecast for the first time to be the second-largest party, ahead of the mainstream centre-right Moderates, in what would be a historic result for them after more than a decade of being ostracised because of their neo-Nazi roots.
“Stable, strong, decisive government is probably not to be expected [from the election] but not chaos either,” said Nicholas Aylott, senior lecturer at Södertörn University. He called the exit polls “historic” for the Sweden Democrats and said it would be an “absolute body blow” to the Moderates.
An unusually harsh campaign focused on gang crime and immigration after a record number of fatal shootings in troubled suburbs pushed Sweden to the top of such statistics in Europe.
The victor of Sunday’s elections is set to face a tricky task in forming a coherent government since both of the two main blocs suffer from infighting.
Magdalena Andersson’s Social Democrats would have to reconcile the former communists of the Left party with the liberal centre-right Centre while on the right a wide ideological gap lies between the mainstream Liberals and the nationalist Sweden Democrats.
The country’s politics have been chaotic since the arrival of the Sweden Democrats in parliament in 2010. The ruling Social Democrats have been forced twice to govern with opposition rightwing budgets while Andersson herself had to resign as prime minister after only seven hours in the post, before being re-elected a week later.
The nationalist party were long shunned by all other parties in parliament, but gained in voter popularity when immigration became more of an issue with the country having taken in the most immigrants per capita in the EU up until 2015.
In the past four years the Sweden Democrats have gradually been brought in from the cold by three centre-right parties. A new conservative bloc has been formed with tough rhetoric on immigration and law and order.
The Social Democrats campaigned less on issues and more on the image of Andersson, who only became prime minister in November and is by far the most popular politician in the country.
Two of the biggest recent controversies — whether Sweden should join Nato, and the country’s handling of Covid-19 — barely featured in a campaign that was instead coloured by tough pledges on immigration and crime as well as an intense focus at the end on sky-high electricity prices.