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Sweden votes for change

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Sweden votes for change

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STOCKHOLM (AP) – Sweden’s Social Democrats were poised to return to power after a left-leaning bloc defeated the centre-right government in a parliamentary election yesterday that also saw strong gains by an anti-immigration party.

With more than 99 per cent of districts counted, the Social Democrat-led Red-Green bloc had 43.7 per cent of the votes yesterday while the governing coalition got 39.3 per cent, official preliminary results showed.

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party more than doubled its support to 13 per cent, leaving it with the balance of power in Parliament.

“The Swedish people have made their decision. We didn’t make it all the way,” Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said as he conceded defeat. “Therefore I will submit my and my government’s resignation tomorrow (today).””

The result marks the end of an eight-year era of tax cuts and pro-market policies under Reinfeldt, who said he would also resign as leader of the conservative party. Many Swedes worried that his tax cuts have undermined the country’s famed welfare system.

“There’s something that is falling apart in Sweden,” Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven told cheering supporters at a rally in Stockholm after most of the votes had been counted. “Tonight Sweden has answered that we need change.”

The 57-year-old former union leader is expected to enter into coalition talks with the Social Democrats’ main partner in the Red-Green bloc, the environmentalist Green Party, and potentially also the ex-communist Left Party.

But unless he’s able to recruit one of the centre-right parties in Reinfeldt’s Alliance, he could face a situation where the Sweden Democrats and the Alliance jointly strike down key proposals.

“We are now Sweden’s third biggest party,” Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson told jubilant supporters. The once radical far-right party entered Parliament four years ago with 5.7 per cent support.

Despite the gains, the Sweden Democrats are unlikely to attain their main goal of sharply reducing immigration because all the other parties are in favour of a liberal asylum policy.

This year, Sweden expects up to 80 000 asylum-seekers from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries – the highest number since 1992.