Swedes head to the polls in close election marred by crime and energy crisis By Reuters

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© Reuters. People vote at a polling station for early voting in the suburb of Rinkeby, Stockholm, Sweden, September 10, 2022. TT News Agency/Ali Lorestani via REUTERS

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By Niklas Pollard, Simon Johnson and Johan Ahlander

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Swedes cast their ballots in an election on Sunday pitting the incumbent centre-left Social Democrats against a right-wing bloc that has embraced anti-immigration Swedish Democrats in a bid to win back power after eight years in the ‘opposition.

With an ever-increasing number of shootings riling voters, the campaign saw parties fight to be toughest on gang crime, while soaring inflation and the energy crisis following the invasion of Ukraine have increasingly taken center stage.

Law and order is the domain of the right, but the buildup of economic storm clouds as households and businesses face sky-high electricity prices could boost the Prime Minister’s social Democrat Magdalena Andersson, seen as a safer pair of hands and more popular than her own party. [L8N30D1RY]

“My clear message is this: during the pandemic, we have supported Swedish businesses and households. I will act in exactly the same way again if I get your renewed trust,” she said this week during one of the last debates before the vote.

Andersson served as finance minister for many years before becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister a year ago. His main rival is the leader of the Moderates, Ulf Kristersson, who considers himself the only one who can unite the right and overthrow it.

Kristersson has spent years deepening his ties with the Swedish Democrats, an anti-immigration party with white supremacists among its founders. Initially shunned by all the other parties, the Swedish Democrats are now increasingly part of the mainstream right.

“We will prioritize law and order, making it profitable to work and build a new climate-smart nuclear power plant,” Kristersson said in a video released by his party. “Simply put, we want to sort out Sweden.”

Opinion polls show the centre-left neck and neck with the right-wing bloc, where the Swedish Democrats appear to have recently overtaken the Moderates as the second largest party behind the Social Democrats.

For many centre-left voters – and even some on the right – the prospect of Jimmie Akesson’s Sweden Democrats having a say in government policy or joining the cabinet remains deeply troubling, and the election is seen in part as a referendum on whether to give them this power.

Kristersson wants to form a government with the small Christian Democrats and, possibly, the Liberals, and only count on the support of the Swedish Democrats in parliament. But these are assurances that the centre-left does not take literally.

Uncertainty looms over the election, with the two blocs facing long and difficult negotiations to form a government amid a polarized and emotionally charged political landscape.

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

“I have quite a few red lines,” said Annie Loof, whose Center Party split from Kristersson over her affiliation with the Swedish Democrats, in a recent SVT interview.

“A red line I have is that I will never pass up a government that gives influence to the Swedish Democrats.”

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