An anti-immigrant party with its roots in Neo-Nazism has made significant gains in the Swedish general election.
The Sweden Democrats won around 18% of the vote, although the preliminary result left the two main political blocs almost tied. The governing centre-left coalition is marginally ahead of its centre-right rivals, with around 40% each. A protracted battle to form a working coalition now looks certain.
After a campaign dominated by debates over immigration, 17.6 per cent of the electorate opted for the anti-immigrant party.
The Sweden Democrats leader, Jimmie Akesson, has infamously called Sweden’s Muslim population “the biggest foreign threat since the Second World War”.
Sunday’s general election was the first since the country of 10 million took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015.
Sweden’s economy is booming but many voters are concerned that housing, healthcare and welfare services have come under pressure.
Mattias Karlsson, of the Sweden Democrats, said: “What we’ve seen here is a political earthquake, really rare to Swedish political history, and I think that the leaders of the two big parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderate party, need to listen to this signal from the Swedish people, need to change the policies that the Swedish people want to see. They want to see real change. I think that they need to start talking to us, to open up a dialogue also with the Sweden Democrats. We will be representing far more than one million voters, and you cannot keep ignoring millions of people.”
Voters handed Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party its worst-ever election result – 28.4 per cent – although that was still enough to leave it the single largest party in Sweden’s parliament.
Nevertheless, there were calls on prime minister Stefan Lofven to resign, but he said he intended to remain in the job.
Meanwhile, Swedish centre-right opposition leader Ulf Kristersson called on Lofven to step down after election results showed his opposition Alliance coalition in a virtual dead heat with its centre-left rivals.
The elections are far from over however, as there will be a drawn out period of negotiations between the centre-left and centre-right blocs.
The results made it unlikely that any party would secure a majority of 175 seats in parliament, so it could take weeks or months of coalition talks before the next government is formed.
Both the left-leaning bloc and the centre-right bloc have said they would refuse to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner.