STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Sweden's ruling centre-right coalition won the most votes but fell short of a majority in the general election as the far right entered parliament for the first time.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's Alliance won 49.2 percent of votes and 172 seats in Sweden's 349-seat legislature in Sunday's vote, three short of a majority, according to a final ballot count.
|A photo taken on September 20, 2010 shows a selection of front pages of Swedish newspapers a day after elections. AFP|
The leftwing opposition coalition garnered 43.7 percent of the ballot and 157 seats, marking a crushing defeat for Social Democrat Mona Sahlin, 53.
"We have received broad support tonight," Reinfeldt told a jubilant crowd in Stockholm, boasting that his Moderate party had seen its voter support double from 15 percent in 2002 to 30 percent on Sunday.
Yet, he acknowledged, "this is not the election result we had hoped for," lamenting the anti-immigrant far-right Sweden Democrats' entry into parliament with 5.7 percent of the vote, and 20 seats in the house.
Observers have cautioned the far-right party could play either kingmaker or spoiler, forcing Reinfeldt to seek new alliances or even make it so difficult to govern that snap polls are forced.
"I have been clear.... We will not cooperate with or be made dependent on the Sweden Democrats," Reinfeldt, 45, said in his victory speech, adding that he would seek to shore up support from elsewhere.
"I will turn to the Greens to get broader support in parliament," he said.
The Green Party, which campaigned as part of a "red-green" opposition coalition with the Social Democrats and formerly communist Left Party and which scored its best election result ever with 7.2 percent of the vote, however rejected the idea outright.
"It would be very difficult for us after this campaign to look our voters in the eyes and say we have agreed to cooperate with this government," party co-chairwoman Maria Wetterstrand told Swedish public television.
Social Democrat Sahlin, who had been vying to become Sweden's first woman prime minister, meanwhile warned that the far-right's rise had put Sweden in a "dangerous political situation."
"It is now up to Fredrick Reinfeldt how he plans to rule Sweden without letting the Sweden Democrats get political influence," she told a crowd of crestfallen supporters after acknowledging defeat.
Reinfeldt's win spelled a decisive end to the rival Social Democrats' 80-year domination of Swedish politics and their role as caretakers of the country's famous cradle-to-grave welfare state.
The party, which for the first time had created a coalition of leftwing parties to increase its chances of winning power, suffered a historic loss, winning just 30.9 percent of the vote, down from 35.3 percent in 2006, when its score was already one of its weakest on record.
It is still the most popular single party, although it is now less than a percentage point ahead of Reinfeldt's Moderates. In 2002, 15 points separated the two parties.
More than 82 percent of Sweden's seven million electorate had cast their ballots Sunday, the final tally of votes from all election districts showed, although the number could shift slightly, since votes from abroad will be counted until Wednesday.
The far-right was celebrating its historic entry in parliament.
Now we are in the Riksdag! We are in!," exulted Jimmie Aakesson, the 31-year-old leader of the Swedish far-right, as he addressed supporters at the party's election headquarters.
He dismissed widespread fears his party would cause parliamentary chaos.
"We won't cause problems. We will take responsibility. That is my promise to the Swedish people," he said.
Aakesson recalled a tough election campaign, saying his party had been excluded from the public debate.
"We were exposed to censorship, we were exposed to a medieval boycott, they... excluded us," he lamented.
However, "today we have written political history," he said.
The party wants to put the brakes on immigration in Sweden, where more than 100,000 foreigners take up residence every year.
The Sweden Democrats won 0.37 percent of the ballot in 1998 and garnered 2.9 percent of the vote in legislative elections in 2006.