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Sweden’s right-wing opposition gets a head start in election cliffhanger

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  • Social Democrat Prime Minister Andersson facing right-wing opposition
  • Kristersson of the Moderates has allied with the Swedish Democrats
  • Campaigns focus on crime and cost of living crisis
  • Polling stations closed at 6:00 p.m. GMT, preliminary results expected on Wednesday

STOCKHOLM, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Sweden’s right-wing bloc slipped into the narrowest of tracks with around 90% of the vote counted after Sunday’s general election, with results pointing to a new government after eight years of social rule- democrat.

Early Monday figures showed the Moderates, Swedish Democrats, Christian Democrats and Liberals winning 176 seats in the 349-seat parliament to 173 for the centre-left.

In further evidence of a shift to the right, Sweden’s anti-immigration Democrats are poised to overtake the moderates as Sweden’s second-largest party and the largest in opposition – a historic shift in a country that has has long been praised for tolerance and openness.

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Nevertheless, moderate leader Ulf Kristersson is likely to be the right-wing candidate for prime minister.

“We don’t know what the outcome will be,” Kristersson told supporters. “But I am ready to do everything possible to form a stable and strong new government for the whole of Sweden and all its citizens.”

With overseas and some postal votes to count and the margin between the two blocs very thin, the results could still change. Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson did not concede defeat on election night, saying the results were too close to announce.

The election authority said a preliminary result would be available Wednesday at the earliest.

Kristersson said he would seek to form a government with the smaller Christian Democrats and, possibly, the Liberals, and would only count on the support of the Swedish Democrats in parliament. But it can be difficult for him to hold off a party that should be bigger than his own.

“Right now it looks like there will be a power shift. Our ambition is to sit in government,” Sweden’s Democratic leader Jimmie Akesson told cheering supporters at a post-election party.

“Twelve years ago we entered parliament, I think we finally got 5.7%. Right now we have 20.7%.”

HARD TO CRIME

The campaign had seen parties battling to be the toughest on gang crime, after a steady rise in shootings baffled voters, while soaring inflation and the energy crisis following the invasion of the Ukraine have increasingly taken center stage.

While public policy issues are the domain of the right, the mounting economic clouds as households and businesses face exorbitant electricity prices has been seen as a stimulus for the Prime Minister Andersson, considered a safe pair of hands and more popular than his party. Read more

Andersson served as finance minister for many years before becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister a year ago.

Kristersson presented himself as the only candidate capable of uniting the right and overthrowing it.

IN THE GENERAL PUBLIC

When Kristersson took over as leader of the moderates in 2017, the Swedish Democrats, an anti-immigration party with white supremacists among its founders, were shunned by right and left. But Kristersson has gradually deepened cross-party ties since an election defeat in 2018 and Sweden’s Democrats are increasingly seen as part of the mainstream right. Read more

The prospect of Sweden’s Democrats having a say in government policy or joining the cabinet has divided voters.

“I fear very much the arrival of a repressive and very right-wing government,” Malin Ericsson, 53, a travel consultant, said Sunday at a polling station in central Stockholm.

The strong result for Sweden’s Democrats matches a pattern of gains for the anti-immigration right across Europe where Italy looks set to elect a conservative bloc comprising Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FdI) and Matteo Salvini’s League later this month.

“I voted for a change of power,” Jorgen Hellstrom, 47, a small business owner, said as he voted near parliament. “Taxes need to come down drastically and we need to fix the crime problem. The last eight years have gone in the wrong direction.”

Whichever bloc wins, negotiations to form a government in a polarized and emotionally charged political landscape are likely to be long and difficult.

Andersson will need to win support from the Center and Left Party, who are ideological opposites, as well as the Green Party, if she wants a second term as prime minister.

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Additional reporting by Janis Laizans, Isabella Ronca, Terje Solsvik and Anna Ringstrom, editing by William Maclean, Elaine Hardcastle, Catherine Evans, Diane Craft and Lincoln Feast

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