Sweden’s general election is too close to call after exit polls showed a narrow lead for the ruling centre-left, while a radical nationalist party looks set to become the largest party on the right.
The exit poll for the state television company SVT gave 49.8 percent to the left and 49.2 percent to the right just after the polls closed on Sunday evening.
The nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats are expected to be the second largest party for the first time, ahead of the mainstream centre-right Moderates, in what would be a historic result for them after more than a decade of ostracism because of their neo-Nazi roots.
“Stable, strong, determined government is probably not to be expected [from the election] but also not chaos,” 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” for the Moderates.
An unusually tough 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 winner of Sunday’s election faces a difficult task of forming a coherent government as both the two main blocs suffer from infighting.
Magdalena Andersson’s Social Democrats would have to reconcile the former communists in the Left Party with the liberal centre-right Centre, while on the right there is a wide ideological gap between the mainstream liberals and the nationalist Sweden Democrats.
The country’s politics have been chaotic since the Sweden Democrats’ arrival in parliament in 2010. The ruling Social Democrats have twice been forced to govern with opposition right-wing budgets, while Andersson himself had to resign as prime minister after just seven hours in office, before being re-elected a week later.
The Nationalist Party was long rejected by all other parties in parliament, but gained in voter popularity as immigration became more of an issue as the country had received the most immigrants per capita. inhabitants in the EU until 2015.
In the past four years, the Sweden Democrats have been gradually brought in from the cold by three centre-right parties. A new conservative bloc has formed with tough rhetoric on immigration and law and order.
The Social Democrats led less of an election campaign and more of 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 figured in a campaign that was instead colored by tough promises on immigration and crime, as well as an intense focus at the end on sky- high electricity prices.