World Bulletin/News Desk
Sweden's centre-left opposition headed for an election victory on Sunday but fell short of a parliamentary majority, the first election projection showed, as voters backed increased spending on job schemes, schools and hospitals after eight years of tax cuts and trimmed welfare under the centre-right Alliance.
Three centre-left opposition parties garnered 43.7 percent of the vote, against 39.1 percent for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's government coalition. That means a likely minority government with limited clout to pass bills.
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats won 13.0 percent in the poll and may hold the balance of power as the third biggest party in parliament. But other parties refuse to work with them.
If projections are born out by official results, negotiations to form a government could be hard and protracted. While the Social Democrats are the biggest party, it was one of their worst electoral results in a century.
In a blow for the centre left opposition, the Feminist Initiative Party got 3.2 percent, below the threshold for parliamentary seats.
A win for the centre left in a weak minority government could also be another nail in the coffin for reform in the Nordics, where governments in Norway, Finland and Denmark are holding back on trimming their expensive welfare states.
The likely new Social Democrat prime minister, former welder and trade unionist Stefan Lofven, has campaigned for more growth and investment and higher taxes on companies and the wealthy in the European Union.
Many Swedes are worried that reforms under Reinfeldt have gone too far, weakening healthcare, allowing business to profit from schools at the expense of results and dividing a nation that has prided itself on equality into haves and have-nots.
Voters have been shocked by scandals over privately-run state welfare - including one case where carers at an elderly home were reportedly weighing diapers to safe money - and bankruptcies of privately run schools.
"We need to re-find our values, those that say we take care of each other, that it is not all about the rich getting it better," said Sofia Bolinder, playing with her young daughter in a playground after voting in the suburb of Skarpnack in southern Stockholm. Bolinder, in her 30s, said she voted for a party "on the left."
Widely admired for its triple A-rated economy, stable government and liberal attitude to immigration, Sweden nevertheless faces significant challenges, which a weak government will struggle to deal with.
Unemployment is high at 8 percent, hitting immigrants and young people especially, and a potential housing bubble threatens economic stability. Widespread riots last year in Stockholm's poor immigrant suburbs highlighted a growing underclass in Sweden, which has had the fastest growing inequality of any OECD nation.
The rise of the far right points to a society starting to question its role as what Reinfeldt calls "a humanitarian superpower". The number of asylum seekers from countries like Syria is expected to reach 80,000 this year. Even Reinfeldt has said government finances would be strained due to the cost of new arrivals.
The Social Democrats plan to spend around 40 billion crowns ($5.6 billion) to improve education, create jobs and strengthen welfare by raising taxes on restaurants, banks and the wealthy.
The Left Party - formerly Sweden's communist party - wants to raise income and corporate taxes and exclude profit-making businesses from schools and welfare, policies that the Social Democrats and Greens reject.
The Liberal and Centre parties, the two smallest in the current government, have snubbed Lofven's call for a broad-based government, raising the threat of deadlock after the election, or, in the worst case scenario, a new vote.Last Mod: 14 Eylül 2014, 23:18