Swedish far-right party grows support, not by as much feared

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven next to his campaign bus

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven next to his campaign bus

The centre-left bloc, uniting the minority governing Social Democrat and Green parties with the Left Party, is backed by about 40 per cent of voters, recent opinion polls indicate, with a slim lead over the centre-right Alliance bloc.

The far-right Sweden Democrats, who have capitalised on voters' frustration over immigration after the country welcomed nearly 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012, were seen making steady gains, rising from 12.9 per cent in 2014 to 17.7 per cent. "Throughout the whole election campaign I have said that somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent is a reasonable election result for us and I think it is possible", Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson told reporters on Sunday.

The Sweden Democrats' success follows a surge in popularity for other far-right parties in Europe amid growing anxiety over national identity and the effects of globalization and fears over immigration following armed conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. The Sweden Democrat's Akesson has labelled the vote a choice between immigration and welfare in election campaign that has been unusually antagonistic.

Lofven had called the election a "referendum on the future of the welfare state", but the far right presented it as a vote on immigrants and their integration.

The latest opinion poll suggests that Prime Minister Stefan Lofven's ruling Social Democrats will substantially lose seats but still emerge a victor with an estimated 24.9% of the votes.

The far-right SD, with roots in a neo-Nazi movement, has called the arrival of nearly 400,000 refugees in Sweden since 2012 a threat to Swedish culture, claiming that they are straining the country's generous welfare system. "It's. about decency, about a decent democracy".

The Social Democrats' result was its worst showing in a century.

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The Swedish Social Democrats continued its over 100-year tradition of finishing first in every election but saw its vote drop to an estimated 28.4 per cent. "I'm afraid we're becoming a society that is more hostile to foreigners".

He told AFP he was anxious about SD.

The final results of the Sunday vote will be released before midnight (22:00 GMT), but the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.

Lengthy negotiations will be needed to build a majority, or at least a minority that won't be toppled by the opposite side.

It is highly unlikely that any single party will get a majority, or 175 seats. "Everything is about us", Akesson said.

That could prove fatal for the Alliance, with the Liberal and Centre parties repeatedly ruling out a deal with "the devil", as Akesson occasionally calls himself. "They should be taken seriously, they have raised serious issues, not just immigration but health care too", said 46-year-old Stockholm voter Henrik, a doctor who refused to give his last name. "We're now competing against the Social Democrats and Moderates to become the biggest party in the country", he said, dismissing the protesters as "communists".

Another, smaller poll by TV4 had the Sweden Democrats taking 16.3 percent.

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