Sweden PM invites opposition to talks as far-right make election gains

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Sweden’s anti-immigrant far-right made gains in legislative elections Sunday and vowed to exert “real influence” as kingmaker, after both the left-wing and centre-right blocs failed to obtain a majority and the make-up of the next government remained up in the air.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven invited the centre-right opposition Alliance to talks aimed at a “cross-bloc cooperation”, after his Social Democrats remained the biggest party with 28.4% of votes, its weakest election score in a century.

He said the election result marked “the death of bloc politics” in Sweden.

At the head of one of the few left-wing governments in Europe, Lofven’s bloc appeared to hold 144 of 349 seats in parliament, one seat more than the Alliance, with votes in 99.8% of districts counted.

That is well short of the 175 needed for a majority.

Just 30 000 votes separated the two blocs. But some 200 000 votes from Swedes who live abroad, which could tip the balance, were only to be counted Wednesday.

The four-party Alliance — made up of the conservative Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Centre — rejected Lofven’s invite, urging him to resign as it reiterated its determination to form its own government.

In Sweden, the speaker of parliament typically consults all party leaders after an election before tasking the one most likely to succeed at forming a government.

Meanwhile, the far-right Sweden Democrats, who have capitalised on voters’ frustration over immigration after the country welcomed almost 400 000 asylum seekers since 2012, were seen making steady gains, rising from 12.9% in 2014 to 17.6%.

“We have strengthened our role as kingmaker… We are going to gain real influence over Swedish politics,” Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson told cheering supporters at an election night party.

The Sweden Democrats remain the third-biggest party — failing to overtake the Moderates — and were credited with 17.6% of the vote, below the 20 to 30 percent Akesson had hoped to win.

Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Rally — formerly known as the National Front — hailed the Swedish party’s rise, tweeting: “Yet another bad night ahead for the European Union. The democratic revolution in Europe is moving forward!”

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 Sweden Democrats, with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, have said the large number of asylum-seekers presents a threat to Swedish culture and claim they put a strain on the country’s generous welfare state.

Around 18.5% of Sweden’s population of 10 million was born abroad, according to Statistics Sweden.