Sweden’s centre-left governing bloc is neck-and-neck with the centre-right opposition alliance in the country’s general elections, according to official results, which also showed gains for an anti-immigration party that has its roots in the neo-Nazi movement.
With about 85 percent of Sunday’s votes counted, the ruling Social Democrats came in first, with more than 28 percent support.
Results published by Swedish broadcaster SVT showed The Moderates party came in second, with almost 20 percent of the vote, edging ahead of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD).
The SD, widely tipped to make gains in the election, won about 18 percent support, jumping nearly five percentage points since the last elections four years ago.
According to an exit poll released by SVT when voting ended, the Social Democrats-led centre-left bloc and the centre-right bloc, headed by the Moderates, won about 40 percent of the vote each.
Around 7.5 million Swedes were eligible to cast a ballot in the vote, with final results expected to be announced before midnight (22:00 GMT).
|Social Democrats leader and incumbent Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (right) said the vote was a referendum on Sweden’s welfare state [TT News Agency/Reuters]
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from the Swedish capital, Stockholm, said the projections did not “conclusively” indicate the make-up of the next government.
“There will be a tight race between the centre-left and centre-right blocs which could be weeks away,” Hull said.
“What they [the polls] do conclusively show, though, is that the worst case scenario that many Swedes had feared, that the far-right Sweden Democrats party might edge into first place, has not come to pass,” he added.
The SD party, which first entered parliament in 2010, has attempted to soften its public image in recent years in a bid to widen its support among the electorate.
Party leader Jimmie Akesson has said there is no place for racism in the party, which in the build up to the elections called the arrival of almost 400,000 asylum seekers into Sweden since 2012 a threat to national culture and a strain on Sweden’s welfare system.
The party presented the vote on Sunday as a ballot on immigration and integration.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, meanwhile, had repeatedly called the legislative elections a “referendum on the future of the welfare state”, while condemning “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, 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”.
|Akesson said he hoped the Sweden Democrats win between 20 to 30 percent of votes [Stina Stjernkvist/Reuters via TT News]
Peter Wolodarski, chief editor of Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper, said all three parties would likely be “disappointed” with the exit poll projections.
“The situation is very unclear. We don’t know who will form the next government, we will probably not know tomorrow, next week or next month,” Wolodarski told Al Jazeera.
“This will take time because we have a parliamentary system with proportional representation and parties have to talk to each other, and there is no clear majority at this point,” he said.