Sweden votes amid heated debate on immigration

Sweden votes amid heated debate on immigration

Sweden votes amid heated debate on immigration

With ballots in more than 95 per cent of districts counted, the Social Democrats were on course to win 28.3 per cent of the votes, down from 31 per cent in the 2014 elections.

"This election is a referendum about our welfare", Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.

Opposition leader Ulf Kristersson of the conservative Moderates has vowed to foil Lofven's attempts to form a government, intent on building his own centre-right coalition.

"Sweden needs breathing space, we need tight responsible immigration policies". We must gather all good forces.

"This government we have had now. they have prioritised, during these four years, asylum-seekers", Akesson said, giving an exhaustive list of things he says the government has failed to do for Swedish society because of migrants.

Final election returns were expected later in the week. It was unlikely any single party would secure a majority of 175 seats.

The process of forming a stable government out of the deadlocked parliament could take weeks and, potentially, end in failure.

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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.

Sweden - home to the Nobel prizes and militarily neutral for the better part of two centuries - has been known for its comparatively open doors to migrants and refugees.

In Sweden, an influx of 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015 - the most in Europe in relation to the country's population of 10 million - has polarised voters and fractured the political consensus. The Sweden Democrats have promised to sink any government that refuses to give the party a say in policy, particularly on immigration.

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. Members known for making pro-Third Reich statements were pushed out. "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.

Akesson was jubilant as he addressed supporters a day later, declaring the estimated 14 parliament seats the Social Democrats picked up a victory other parties could not ignore in coalition negotiations.

Mohamed Nuur, a Social Democrat candidate of Somali descent, said he sees Mr Akesson taking Sweden back to the past.

Mattias, a Stockholm resident at an election night party in the city, said he was "extremely concerned" about the far right's steady climb since it entered parliament in 2006 with 5.7 per cent. Jeff Schaeffer and Philipp Jenne in Stockholm, Jari Tanner in Helsinki and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed.

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