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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Polls see no winner but Sweden’s establishment will likely lose 

With no clear frontrunner, government formation will likley be a headache

Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party in Sweden, speaks at a rally of the Alliansen with polls predicting a parliamentary deadlock. AFP
Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party in Sweden, speaks at a rally of the Alliansen with polls predicting a parliamentary deadlock. AFP

Sweden’s political establishment is bracing for a punishing on Sunday as voters in the largest Nordic economy look poised to turn out for a nationalist party in big numbers.

The two traditional political blocs are running neck-and-neck, but will be far from winning a majority with anti-immigration Sweden Democrats gaining backers. The ruling Social Democrats could suffer the worst election ever, while the biggest opposition party, the Moderates, may see its backing slide to almost half of what it was early this decade.

The post-election landscape will likely be chaotic and could cast a broader shadow over Europe amid advances of anti-European Union forces. The former communist Left Party is also poised to make big gains. Party leaders on Saturday warned that the country could face weeks of negotiations after a tense, and sometimes mocking, last debate late on Friday.

Party leaders have kept their post-election strategies close to their vests during the campaign, though all have said they won’t invite the Sweden Democrats into government. The centre-right Alliance, led by the Moderates, could attempt to take over even if it becomes the smaller bloc. The Social Democratic-led side may also try to cling to power.

Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson struck a defiant tone Friday in the last days of a dismal campaign. “This government needs to go,” he said at a rally in Stockholm. “It should never have seen the light of day and now we’ll get a clean slate in parliament. A new time will begin in Swedish politics.”

While Mr Kristersson’s party is far from its heyday, his four-party alliance is staging a small comeback in recent polls. In the latest Inizio poll, published by Aftonbladet on Saturday, the centre-right bloc extended its lead over the government parties and their Left Party ally.

The Sweden Democrats, calling for an exit from the EU, is polling around 18 per cent on average now. It would rise from about 13 per cent four years ago after gaining backers amid growing discontent over immigration and rising crime rates. Some outlying polls have shown it could even become the largest after voting closes at 8 p.m. local time on Sunday.

That’s when hard negotiations will start. The most likely scenario is that the bloc with the most votes will attempt to form a minority cabinet.

The latest poll of polls shows the red-greens would control 147 seats in parliament versus the Alliance’s 138. But since the Alliance and the Sweden Democrats want to boot Prime Minister Stefan Lofven out of power and as the nationalists typically side with the centre-right opposition, the group may still try to muscle its way into government.

To form a government all new prime ministers will need to pass a vote in parliament, which involves not having a majority of the legislature against them.

Polls released at the end of this week showed a dead heat, with the Red-Greens below 40 per cent. That increases the likelihood that Kristersson could become the next prime minister even though his conservatives may be overtaken by SD as the second-largest party.

The Social Democrats are also struggling, poised for the worst election since general voting started in 1921. In the latest poll of polls, it was backed by 25.1 per cent of voters, down from 31 per cent in 2014. It’s losing voters both to the Sweden Democrats and the Left Party.

"The Social Democrats seem to be heading toward a catastrophic election," Torbjorn Sjostrom, the chief executive officer of Novus, said in an interview.

As for the Moderates, Mr Sjostrom said any outcome where SD overtakes them will be problematic.

"Is it really possible to be prime minister if you are only the third-biggest party?" he said. "It’s going to be a weird situation if the Sweden Democrats become the second-largest party but won’t be considered as part of a government or even as support for the future government. And what are the Social Democrats going to do with the Left Party, considering their size?"

"There are many factors making things very complicated after election day," Mr Sjostrom said.

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