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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s right-wing opposition bloc narrowly led a general election late Sunday, according to reports from the country’s 6,578 polling stations, edging in front of the incumbent Social Democrat-led government after a tightly fought election campaign dominated by the issue of rising gang violence.
After a nail-biting count, which initially favored the incumbent center-left government, opposition parties supporting center-right Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to form a new government secured 176 of 349 seats in parliament.
Parties supporting incumbent Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson won 173 seats.
The extremely narrow gap between the two sides — 0.9 percentage points or around 50,000 votes — means postal votes and ballots from abroad could still decide the election, so a final result might not be available until Wednesday, Sweden’s election authority said. Neither side claimed victory on the night.
But late on Sunday, Kristersson was in pole position to form a new government. While his Moderate Party slightly underperformed its allies the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), with 19 percent and 20.7 percent of the votes respectively, Kristersson has been backed by the right-wing coalition — which also includes the Christian Democrats and Liberals — to be the next prime minister.
“I want to thank all of you who voted for us with a hope for change,” Kristersson said. “We Moderates are ready to lead that change.”
In a historic development for Sweden, SD, which was ostracized for decades within Swedish politics because of its roots in neo-Nazi groups, now stands on the verge of real influence in Swedish politics for the first time, either within an eventual Kristersson government or as a support party to it.
SD leader Jimmie Åkesson said that if there is a power shift, SD will have a “central role.”
For her part, incumbent Prime Minister Andersson said her Social Democrats had enjoyed a strong election, securing 30.5 percent support, making it the country’s biggest party.
“This is a great result and we have run a fantastic campaign,” she told supporters.
The Social Democrats have led the Swedish government for the past eight years, but an intense focus on gang criminality and immigration during the election campaign was seen as a challenge to a party whose strengths are traditionally welfare provision and workers’ rights.
In front of cheering supporters, Moderate leader Kristersson acknowledged the campaign between his Moderate Party and the Social Democrats had at times been tough, but called on the country to now come together to meet challenges ahead, including an ongoing application to join NATO and a looming six-month presidency of Council of the European Union, which Sweden is due to assume from January 2023.
While a result won’t be known before Wednesday, Kristersson said that if his political group maintains its advantage in the count, he stands ready to take over as prime minister.
“I am ready to do all I can to form a government for all of Sweden’s citizens,” Kristersson said.