Swedish election: Far right poised for gains in heated polls

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Polls have opened in Sweden’s legislative elections on Sunday, with the far-right expected to win a record score as voters unhappy about immigration punish one of the few remaining left-wing governments in Europe.

Polling institutes have suggested the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) could win anywhere between 16 and 25 percent of the vote, which would give it significant influence, making it impossible to predict the make-up of the next government.

The party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement has called the arrival of almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012 a threat to Swedish culture, and claims they are straining Sweden’s generous welfare state. 

The traditionally two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and the conservative Moderates, were together predicted to win around 40 percent, down by 10 percentage points from the last elections in 2014.

Candidates from the eight parties campaigned down to the wire on Saturday, targeting in particular the 20 percent of the 7.5 million eligible voters believed to still be undecided.

Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has repeatedly called the legislative elections a “referendum on the future of the welfare state”.

But the far right has presented it as a vote on immigration and integration, after Sweden took in more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015 alone, a per capita record in Europe.

‘No racists on our streets’

On the eve of the election, Lofven condemned “the hateful forces” in Sweden.

He urged voters to “think about how they wanted to use their time on Earth”, calling on them to “stand on the right side of history”.

Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson meanwhile said that after the election, Sweden would need “a strong cross-bloc cooperation to isolate the forces… pushing for Sweden to withdraw from international cooperation”.

In southern Sweden, an SD stronghold, party leader Akesson campaigned among throngs of supporters as detractors booed him and shouted “No racists on our streets!”

“We’re now competing against the Social Democrats and Moderates to become the biggest party in the country,” he said, dismissing the protesters as “communists”.

Around 7.5 million Swedes are eligible to cast a ballot on Sunday. 

Polling stations opened across the country at 8am (06:00 GMT) and close at 8pm (18:00 GMT), with first estimates expected soon afterwards.

Final results are due before midnight (22:00 GMT), but the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.

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