Polls open in Swedish election

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Polls open in Swedish election

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Sweden has started choosing its next Prime Minister. The two main contenders are the young, dynamic New Moderate Fredrik Reinfeldt and the familiar, avuncular incumbent Goran Persson. Opinion polls show them neck and neck. But why change a blend of social welfare and free-market success that is the envy of Europe?

The challenger Fredrik Reinfeldt has promised to slightly reduce tax and benefits and to get more people, especially the young and immigrants, into jobs. After TV debates with his rival, the football-mad father of three scores highly with female and young voters.

At 41 he hopes to be Sweden’s youngest ever Prime Minister. To do that he must unseat the Social Democrats who have governed the country for 65 of the last 74 years. That party is led by Persson, who’s looking for his third term in office. The 57 year old points to Sweden’s fastest economic growth in six years and unemployment at only 5.7 percent. His critics say this figure has been massaged and is really closer to 15 percent, and even higher amongst the young.

A preliminary result is expected on Sunday evening. With the outcome so tight, turnout could be crucial. Traditionally a large number of Swedes, around 80 percent do cast their vote. Experts say a weaker showing would be likely to benefit the challenger Fredrik Reinfeldt.