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Sweden election: Right-wing bloc starts talks to form new government

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By David Mac Dougall  with AP
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson holds flowers and celebrates during a speech in Nacka, Sweden, early Monday 12 September 2022
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson holds flowers and celebrates during a speech in Nacka, Sweden, early Monday 12 September 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo   -  

The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have already started talks with other right-wing parties about forming the Nordic country's next government.

According to Swedish media outlets, Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson met at lunchtime in Stockholm with the leader of the Moderates Ulf Kristersson. The leader of the Liberals, Johan Pehrson, also arrived at the Moderates' office early Monday afternoon; with the leader of the Christian Democrats Ebba Busch expected later.

The Moderates have traditionally been Sweden's leading conservative political party but were out-polled in Sunday's election by the Sweden Democrats who got 20.6% of the vote. 

The Christian Democrats got 5.4% of the votes but were criticised ahead of election day for fielding far-right and criminal candidates on their party lists. 

The full and final results of the Swedish election -- with voter turnout around 81% -- might not be known until Wednesday, according to authorities, as a too-close-to-call count overnight from Sunday into Monday meant advance votes and overseas ballots will all need to be tallied.

Overseas voters tend to skew right-wing in Swedish elections.

Winners and losers as votes are counted

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson's Social Democrats emerged as the biggest single party of the night with 30.5% of the vote, but her progressive left-wing bloc of Social Democrats, Centre Party, Greens and Left Party hasn't got enough combined seats in the Riksdag to form a government. 

The Sweden Democrats are clearly the big winners of this year's election, overtaking the Moderates to become the second biggest party in parliament - just 12 years after getting their first MPs.

In an opening salvo on negotiations, the Sweden Democrats have suggested that Åkesson could consider taking the prime minister's job for himself, although it's expected that Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson will end up in that job. The question though, is at what price: will the Sweden Democrats demand specific ministerial positions in the next government; how much of their policy agenda will make it into the official government programme; and will Jimmie Åkesson essentially be pulling the Moderates' strings as the leader of the biggest government party?

“We know now that if there’s going to be a shift in power, we will be having a central role in that," he said on election night.

The Moderates and Liberals, whose own policy positions had drifted right as the Sweden Democrats grew in popularity, have seemingly not benefited at the ballot box, losing votes to the far-right party. In another scenario, if the left-wing bloc had enough seats to form a new government with the Moderates finishing in third place, Ulf Kristersson would likely have lost his job. Now, he very possibly could be prime minister of Sweden despite the third-place slump.

Stefan Jerrevång/AP
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson delivers a speech in Nacka, near Stockholm, late Sunday 11 September 2022Stefan Jerrevång/AP

Who are the Sweden Democrats?

The Sweden Democrats party has its roots in the white power and fascist movements of the late 1980s, but says it has now expelled extremists, as leader Jimmie Åkesson moved to tone down the part's rhetoric including replacing their original torch logo with a blue flower. 

However, senior party officials were still talking in public on the campaign trail about the dangers of 'Islamisation' in Swedish society, and openly blamed Muslim immigrants for many of Sweden's social and economic problems - including a crime wave that has seen a spate of shootings and violent attacks, particularly in parts of the country with a large immigrant population. 

"Immigration is the reason they exist in the first place," explained Pontus Odmalm, a Swede who lectures in politics at the University of Edinburgh.

"The anti-immigration message is a given by now. They want less immigration and more repatriation. But they've also shifted the focus to integration failures, and that's where they tie in law and order to immigration," he told Euronews ahead of Sunday's election.

Magdalena Anderson, Sweden's first female prime minister, had warned during the election campaign about the rise of the far-right in Swedish society, noting that they stood candidates with "racist opinions and racist backgrounds." 

"A government that would be fully dependent on the Sweden Democrats as the biggest party in that government, or as a support to that government, of course, their rhetoric, their way of seeing on people could change the way, how we speak to each other, how people feel welcome or unwelcome in our society.It could be a different Sweden that we would have in four years," Anderson said.  

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf had also warned repeatedly about the dangers of voting for far-right parties, and on election night as the results came in she said "I find it worrying that a xenophobic party has gained so much ground."

Sweden is now likely to face a lengthy process to form a government, as it did after the 2018 election: the parties in the winning bloc will have negotiate a common government programme they can all agree on.