Populist surge in Sweden as nationalist party ahead in crushing election for EU

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Sweden’s right bloc appeared in pole position on Monday to form a government for the first time in nearly a decade, helped by a wave of voter anger over gang violence which could give an anti-immigration populist party a share in power for the first time.

Sunday’s national election remained too close to call on Monday with about 5 percent of election districts yet to be counted, but early results gave right-wing parties 175 of the 349 seats in the Riksdag, one more than the left bloc.

Overseas postal ballots were still to be counted and while they have historically tended to favour the right, this means a full preliminary result is not due until Wednesday.

All votes are then counted again to provide a final tally.

If the results are confirmed, Sweden, which has long prided itself on being a bastion of tolerance, will become less open to immigrants as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to force people to flee and climate change is pushing many to leave Africa.

Political observers say Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson is likely to become prime minister in a minority government supported by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats who are poised to become the largest party on the right and will have a big say on the new administration’s programme.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who has yet to concede the election, pledged in March to increase the military budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product in response to a deteriorating security situation in Europe following what Moscow calls its “special operation”.

When Mr Kristersson took over as leader of the Moderates in 2017, the Sweden Democrats were shunned by the right and left.

But he has gradually deepened cross-party ties since a 2018 election loss and the Sweden Democrats are increasingly seen as part of the mainstream right having moderated some policies such as dropping plans to leave the European Union.

Mr Kristersson will now likely struggle to formulate his economic agenda as inflation runs at its highest in about three decades and energy costs are soaring, with the Sweden Democrats opposed to his flagship policy plank of benefit cuts.

“Intense negotiations are expected and it might take time to form a new government. Fiscal policy will likely remain expansionary regardless of which side wins,” Nordea Markets said in a note to clients.

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Preliminary results have showed the Sweden Democrats with 20.6 percent of the vote, up from 17.5 percent in the previous election.

Campaigning had seen parties battle to be the toughest on gang crime, after a steady rise in shootings that has unnerved voters, while surging inflation and the energy crisis following the invasion of Ukraine have increasingly taken centre-stage.

While law and order issues are home turf for the right, gathering economic clouds as households and companies face sky-high power prices had been seen boosting Andersson, viewed as a safe pair of hands and more popular than her party.

“Personally I’m slightly disappointed and a confused, because we haven’t really got a result yet,” Mette, 50, a graphic designer, told Reuters.

“I was hoping for something different.”

Ms Andersson was finance minister for many years before becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister a year ago.

Mr Kristersson had cast himself as the only candidate who could unite the right and unseat her.

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