With more than 94 per cent of the ballots counted as of Monday, the centre-right opposition that includes Sweden’s now second largest party, the Sweden Democrats, had a razor-thin edge over the governing Social Democrats and their allies in the centre-left bloc headed by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who has not resigned.
The result was so close the election authority said a definitive outcome would not be known before Wednesday, when the uncounted votes, including those cast abroad, have been tallied.
As of now, the preliminary results make it unlikely any party will secure a majority of 175 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament.
“It’s incredibly close – it’s basically a coin toss with 50-50 for both sides, so we don’t know at the moment,” said Zeth Isaksson, a sociologist at Stockholm University.
The biggest winner of the evening was the populist anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, which had a strong showing of nearly 21 per cent, its best result.
The party gained on promises to crack down on shootings and other gang violence, which have shaken a sense of security for many in Sweden.
The party has its roots in the white nationalist movement, but years ago began expelling extremists.
Despite its rebranding, voters long viewed it as unacceptable and other parties shunned it.
But that has been changing, and its result in this election shows just how far it has come in gaining acceptance.
Tobias Hübinette, lecturer in intercultural studies at Karlstad University and a leading anti-racist, said: “The SD is currently by far the biggest party in the world with Nazi roots.
“Even if the party officially condemns its own race ideological roots, this background is today still present in the sense that the SD is still … seeing itself as the only political force that can save the native white Swedish majority population.”
Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, told a crowd of cheering supporters on Sunday evening: “Our goal is to sit in government. Our goal is a majority government. It’s looking pretty damn good now.”
The Social Democrats, who have been in power in Sweden since 2014, remain the largest party with 30.5 per cent of the vote.
Ms Andersson said it was obvious the social democratic movement, which is based on ideals of creating an equal society and a strong welfare state, remains strong in Sweden.
The conservative bloc was led during the campaign by the centre-right Moderates, who won 19 per cent.
Leader Ulf Kristersson told his supporters he stands ready to try to create a stable and effective government.
However, Sweden is likely to face a lengthy process to form a government, as it did after the 2018 election.
Ms Andersson, a 55-year-old economist, became Sweden’s first female prime minister less than a year ago and led the country’s historic bid to join Nato following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
She has called on Swedes to “have patience” and “let democracy run its course”.