STOCKHOLM: The leader of Sweden’s conservatives, Ulf Kristersson, was working to form a new government on Thursday after a narrow election win by a coalition of right and far-right parties.
“I now begin the work of forming a new and strong government,” Kristersson said on Wednesday as vote tallies were being finalized. “Now we will restore order in Sweden!”
With 176 seats — 73 of them going to the far-right Sweden Democrats — the four-party coalition will have a slim majority over the left, which won 173, according to a tally by the country’s elections authority that includes 99.9 percent of voting offices.
Sunday’s election was so close that it took until Wednesday for tens of thousands of votes from abroad and those cast in advance to be counted to validate the results.
Acknowledging her camp’s defeat on Wednesday, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced that she would resign.
Speaking at a press conference, Andersson, leader of the Social Democrats, noted that the right would enjoy a “narrow majority, but a majority nonetheless.”
“So tomorrow I will hand in my resignation as prime minister, and the responsibility for the continued process will go to the speaker,” Andersson said.
‘Making Sweden great again’
Never before has a Swedish government relied on the support of the anti-immigration and nationalist Sweden Democrats, who became the big winners of the vote.
With the vast majority of votes counted, the party emerged as Sweden’s second largest behind the Social Democrats, who have dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s.
However, the post of prime minister will in all likelihood go to Kristersson, the leader of the Moderate party, as Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson is unable to unite all four parties to head the government.
Kristersson, a former gymnast, led a major U-turn for his party when initiating exploratory talks in 2019 with the Sweden Democrats and then deepening their cooperation.
The Christian Democrats, and to a lesser extent the Liberals, later followed suit.
At the same time the thorny question remains of whether the far-right would be given cabinet posts, which Akesson said on Sunday was their “goal.”
In a post to Facebook on Wednesday, Akesson thanked “friends of Sweden” around the country, and noted that negotiating a new government was “a process that will take the time it needs.”
“Now the work begins of making Sweden great again,” the party leader said.
The head of Italy’s anti-immigrant League, Matteo Salvini, hailed the party’s success.
“Even in beautiful and democratic Sweden, the left is defeated and sent home,” Salvini said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Sweden Democrats rose up out of neo-Nazi groups and the “Keep Sweden Swedish” movement in the early 1990s, entering parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of votes.
Long shunned as “pariahs” on the political scene, the party has registered strong growth in each subsequent election as it made efforts to clean up its image.
Its hardline stance on soaring gang shootings and integration set the tone in this year’s election.
The narrow majority means a right-wing government’s hold on power would be very fragile, with the four parties fiercely opposed on a number of issues, especially the Liberals and Sweden Democrats.
“This is a difficult parliamentary situation,” Gothenburg University political scientist Mikael Gilljam told AFP.
“And then you have parties that don’t like each other, the Sweden Democrats and the Liberals” in the same right-wing bloc, he added.
In such a situation, a few disgruntled MPs could end up flipping the balance of power, and support for the Sweden Democrats has been a divisive issue among parties and voters alike.
“It’s scary, it’s strange… We’re seeing an idiocracy winning more and more ground,” 39-year-old art curator Anna Senno told AFP in Stockholm shortly after Andersson’s announcement.
Behind the Sweden Democrats with 73 seats — 11 more than in the last elections in 2018 — the Moderates have 68 (-2), while the Christian Democrats have 19 (-3) and the Liberals 16 (-4).
On the left, the Social Democrats climbed to 107 seats (+7) after getting 30.3 percent of the vote, ahead of the Left and Centre parties (24 seats each) and the Green Party (18).
Formally, the process of political changeover can only start after Andersson’s official resignation on Thursday.
Then the speaker of the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, can give Kristersson the task of forming a majority between the four parties, opening a period of negotiations.
The election of the new head of government cannot take place before September 27 at the earliest, when parliament reopens.