Sweden faces political deadlock as far right gains more votes

Sweden faces a political impasse after its mainstream centre-left and centre-right blocs virtually tied in an election on Sunday, while the far right — which neither wants to deal with — made gains on a hardline anti-immigration platform.

Sweden Democrats take 17.6% of vote amid immigration debate

Sweden Democrats party Leader Jimmie Akesson speaks on election evening at Kristallen restaurant in central Stockholm. The far-right party finished third in Sweden's election Sunday. (TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund via Reuters)

Sweden faces a political impasse after its mainstream centre-left and centre-right blocs virtually tied in an election on Sunday, while the far right — which neither wants to deal with — made gains on a hardline anti-immigration platform.

With nearly all votes counted on Monday, the ruling centre-left Social Democrats and Greens and their Left Party parliamentary ally had 40.6 per cent of the vote, while the opposition centre-right Alliance had 40.3 per cent. 

That translates into a single-seat advantage in the 349-member Riksdag.

The election saw the Sweden Democrats, with roots in a neo-Nazi movement, win about 18 per cent, up from the 13 per cent gained four years earlier.

The party, which has worked to moderate its image in past years, gained on a backlash against the challenges of integrating hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the Scandinavian nation over the past years.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who brought the Social Democrats to power in 2014, said he intended to remain in the job. The centre-left party emerged with the greatest share of the vote — 28.4 per cent as the count neared completion — yet was looking at holding fewer parliament seats than four years ago.

The leader of the Moderates party that came in second, Ulf Kristersson, already had called on Lofven to resign and claimed the right to form Sweden's next government.

Stefan Lofven, Sweden's prime minister and leader of the Social Democrat party, speaks at an election party at the Fargfabriken art hall in Stockholm. His party finished first but had its worst showing ever. (TT News Agency/Claudio Bresciani via Reuters)

The centre-right party Alliance has said it would meet Monday to discuss how to move forward and demand that Lofven, head of the minority, two-party governing coalition, resign.

Final election returns were expected later in the week. The preliminary results made it unlikely any party would secure a majority of 175 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, Sweden's parliament. It could take weeks or months of coalition talks before the next government is formed.

Both the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats and the centre-right bloc in which the Moderates is largest of four parties have said they would refuse to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner.

An SD flag is seen during a political rally for the Sweden Democrats last week. The flower replaced a flaming torch, as the party looked to soften its image. (Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

Lofven told his supporters the election presented "a situation that all responsible parties must deal with," adding that "a party with roots in Nazism" would "never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred."

"We have a moral responsibility. We must gather all forces for good. We won't mourn, we will organize ourselves," he said.

Turnout in the election was reported at 84.4 per cent, up from 83 per cent in 2014.

Sweden, which is 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. Sunday's general election was the first since Sweden, which has a population of 10 million, took in a record 163,000 refugees in 2015 — the highest per capita of any European country.

Young members of the Sweden Democrats react to exit-poll results at their party election centre on Sunday. (Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

With files from Reuters