Opinion polls suggest nationalists will enter parliament despite Swedes’ increasing tolerance towards immigrants.
|Members of the Sweden Democrats cheered when it became clear that they won seats in parliament [AFP]|
Sweden’s ruling centre-right coalition has retained power in parliamentary polls, while a far-right party has won seats in the legislature for the first time.
The centre-right, led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister and leader of the Moderate Party, is the first right-wing government to be re-elected in nearly a century.
The coalition garnered 49.3 per cent of the votes and the centre-left opposition 43.7 per cent.
The nationalist Sweden Democrats (SD) received 5.7 per cent, exceeding the four per cent threshold with a wide margin.
“I am overwhelmed and it’s difficult to gather the thoughts,” Swedish Radio quoted Jimmie Akesson, SD’s leader, as telling supporters.
“Today we’ve written political history together.”
The outcome could lead to complicated coalition negotiations. After the final results, the prime minister said: “We will not co-operate with or make ourselves dependent on the Sweden Democrats.”
Reinfeldt said that as a first option, the centre-right will instead turn to the Green Party for support.
Before the elections, both blocs pledged not to seek support from SD to form a majority, saying the party represents xenophobic views that run counter to Sweden’s tradition of tolerance.
For the first time, the opposition – Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party – gathered in an alliance ahead of this year’s polls to challenge the ruling bloc.
The centre-right had a strong lead in opposition polls until last week, but the gap was then narrowing. With more than half a million of 7.1 million eligible voters believed to make up their minds only on election day, analysts said until last minute the result was a toss-up.
K-G Bergstrom, a veteran political commentator for Swedish Television, told Al Jazeera that debate over the health insurance in the last week had resulted in apparent losses in support for the centre-right.
Since the centre-right won polls in 2006 and ended 12 years of Social Democrats minority governments, it has lowered taxes for working Swedes and reformed the welfare benefits system.
Especially stricter rules in the health insurance have been widely criticised. A group of cancer doctors entered the debate in December, saying patients with severe illness and pain were forced to work.
However, Bergstrom said many Swedish voters tend to think that the government proved competent in handling the financial crisis and that voters’ trust in the prime minister is larger than that in the Social Democrats leader.
Much of the focus of the centre-right’s campaign has been on employment and Reinfeldt told Al Jazeera that by creating jobs, the incumbent government can also improve the welfare.
“Welfare comes out of the policies of job creation. If you have many people in the labour you will also see that you have better resources for your welfare ambitions.”
Stig-Bjorn Ljunggren, a political analyst, said the ruling parties have managed to get Swedes to endorse a policy with a tightened welfare scheme, where people are pushed out in the labour force.
“They have managed to create a conflict line between a Sweden of growth and a Sweden of social benefits” he told Al Jazeera.
Ljunggren said a typical Swedish political mechanism – co-operation – will now get started to prevent the Sweden Democrats from getting any power in parliament.
“The [centre-right] Alliance will invite the red-green parties for partnership. They want to show that they are taking responsibility, that they are reaching out a hand, to ensure that those xenophobes don’t get any influence.
“The Social Democrats will say the same thing. But they have to hug the Greens so they’re not running away.”
The ruling coalition has vowed to negotiate with the Green Party to avoid being dependent on support from SD.
The Sweden Democrats campaign has been based on warnings of the Muslims’ “growing influence” in the country. Kent Ekeroth, SD’s international secretary, has said ethnic Swedes could become “second class citizens.”
The party says immigration is draining the welfare system. It wants to cut asylum and immigration by relatives of people already living in Sweden by 90 per cent.
Immigrants make up 14 per cent of the country’s population of 9.4 million, with the biggest group from neighbouring Finland followed by Iraq, the former Yugoslavia and Poland.