, STOCKHOLM, Sep 14 – Sweden’s voters headed to the polls in general elections Sunday, with the Social Democrats poised to regain power after eight years in opposition and the far right expected to make historic gains.
The anti immigration Sweden Democrats party was forecasted to double its seats in parliament, as a growing proportion of the nation of 10 million express frustration with an accelerating influx of refugees in recent years.
If opinion polls prove right, Stefan Loefven, the stocky leader of the Social Democrats, looks set to become the next prime minister, probably in a coalition with the Greens and the former communist Left Party.
But a victory for the 57 year old former welder is likely to be narrow, and on the eve of the election he admitted that the far right could still throw a spanner in the works.
“We indeed have a chance,” he said in an interview with Swedish news agency TT Saturday, commenting on the possibility of a red green victory.
“But the question is whether or not it will be with the Sweden Democrats as kingmakers,” said the former union leader who has campaigned on a promise to narrow income gaps, invest in infrastructure and improve an ailing educational system.
Sweden has been governed by a four party conservative liberal coalition headed by Fredrik Reinfeldt, 49, since 2006.
He has been widely credited with steering the country through the global financial crisis, consolidating Sweden’s position as arguably the healthiest economy in Europe.
Even so, Reinfeldt’s Moderates was predicted to garner just 22 percent of the vote, according to a survey released Saturday by Swedish public broadcaster SR.
Analysts say the population is tired of the austerity his government has been pushing through and is also yearning to see fresh faces at the top.
Polling booths opened at 0600 GMT and will close 12 hours later, determining the allocation of 349 seats in the Nordic country’s legislature, the Riksdag.
An opinion poll showing the most recent estimate of voter preferences is however expected to be released at 1400 GMT.
According to the survey published Saturday by the SR, the Social Democrats stand to secure 30.3 percent of the vote, while the far right Sweden Democrats would obtain 9.6 percent of the vote, up from 5.7 percent in the last election in 2010.
This would make the anti immigrant party the third largest in the parliament of a nation that has traditionally taken pride in its welcoming attitude towards foreigners.
“The Sweden Democrats is the only political party that wants to stop immigration,” said Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University who has studied the party closely.
“All the other political parties have a united stance, a generous immigration policy. About half the Swedes want to receive fewer refugees.”
Sweden, which has one of Europe’s most generous refugee policies, expects close to 90,000 refugees this year numbers not seen since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Voters in Stockholm interviewed by AFP early Sunday were mostly hostile to the Sweden Democrats.
“This time we have this more or less new party on the very right wing,” said Christina Lindvall, a lawyer, adding she was most likely to vote for the Greens. “Those of us who don’t support them need to show that.”
An electoral gain for the Sweden Democrats and their dapper, 35 year old leader Jimmie Aakesson would confirm a Europe-wide trend of soaring popularity for populist right wing parties.
Also on Sunday in elections in the two eastern German states of Thuringia and Brandenburg, big wins were expected for the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany, which has flirted with populist positions on issues such as immigration and law and order.