SWEDEN’S centre-left opposition was heading for an election victory last night, an exit poll showed, on a platform of increased spending on job schemes, schools and hospitals after eight years of tax cuts under the centre-right Alliance.
The Social Democrats, the largest single party with 31.1 per cent in the state broadcaster SVT poll, hoped to rule with the Green Party, with 7.1 per cent.
But with the exit poll showing them short of a parliamentary majority they are likely to rely on support from the Left Party, which got 6.6 per cent and the Feminist Initiative party, which with four per cent look set to just reach the threshold to win seats in parliament.
The four party government Alliance won 39.7 per cent.
If the poll by state broadcaster SVT is borne out, negotiations to form a government could be hard and protracted.
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, which had 10.5 per cent in the poll, may hold the balance of power but other parties refuse to work with them.
While exit polls can give an indication of the final outcome, they may also differ considerably to official results, as in Sweden’s European Union elections earlier this year.
A defeat for prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt would rob the likes of Germany and the United Kingdom of a voice in the troubled bloc for fiscal prudence and reform.
The likely new Social Democrat prime minister, former welder and trade unionist Stefan Löfven, has campaigned for more growth and investment and higher taxes on companies and the wealthy in the EU.
Many Swedes are worried that reforms under Mr 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.
But a splintered opposition has failed to tap into voter unease and is unlikely to win a majority in parliament.
“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, after voting in the suburb of Skarpnack in southern Stockholm. Ms 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 per cent, 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 Mr Reinfeldt calls “a humanitarian superpower”. The number of asylum seekers from countries such as Syria is expected to reach 80,000 this year. Even Mr 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 (£3.4bn) 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.