Swedes are voting in an election that pits the incumbent centre-left Social Democrats against a right-wing bloc that has embraced the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in a bid to win back power after eight years in opposition.
With a steadily growing number of shootings unsettling voters, parties have jockeyed to be the toughest on gang crime, while rising inflation and the energy crisis in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have increasingly taken center stage.
Law and order is home to the right wing, but gathering economic storm clouds could boost the social democratic prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, seen as a pair of safe hands and more popular than her party.
“My clear message is: During the pandemic, we supported Swedish companies and households. I will act in exactly the same way again if I have your renewed confidence,” she said in one of the closing debates before Sunday’s vote.
Andersson was finance minister for many years before becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister a year ago. Her biggest rival is the leader of the Moderates, Ulf Kristersson, who sees himself as the only one who can unite the right wing and unseat her.
Kristersson has spent years deepening ties with the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party with white supremacists among its founders. The Sweden Democrats, initially rejected by all the other parties, are now increasingly part of the mainstream right wing.
“We will prioritize law and order, making it profitable to work and build new climate-smart nuclear power,” Kristersson said in a video posted by his party. “Simply put, we want to sort Sweden out.”
The polling stations opened at 8.00 local time and closes at 20:00, with final results around midnight.
Opinion polls show that the center-left is neck and neck with the right-wing bloc, with the Sweden Democrats appearing to have recently overtaken the Moderates as the second largest party after the Social Democrats.
For many centre-left voters – and even some on the right – the prospect of Jimmie Åkesson’s Sweden Democrats having an influence on government policy or becoming a member of the government remains deeply unsettling, and the election is seen in part as a referendum on whether they must give them. that power.
Kristersson wants to form a government with the small Christian Democrats and possibly the Liberals and rely only on the Sweden Democrats’ support in parliament. But these are assurances that the centre-left does not take at face value.
Uncertainty looms large over the election, with both blocs facing long and tough negotiations to form a government in a polarized and emotionally charged political landscape.
Andersson will have to get support from the Center Party and the Left, which are ideological opposites, and probably also the Green Party if she wants a second term as prime minister.
“I have quite a few red lines,” said Annie Lööf, whose center party split with Kristersson over his embrace of the Sweden Democrats, in a recent SVT interview. “A red line I have is that I will never let through a government that gives the Sweden Democrats influence.”