Sweden, a country synonymous with stable government, generous welfare and liberal immigration policies, entered a new era on Monday, as its fragmented political mainstream scrambled to form a coalition government strong enough to exclude the surging far right.
Elections held Sunday gave the center-left enough votes to take power from the governing center-right alliance, yet neither bloc won a majority. But the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant party, more than doubled their vote and now hold the balance of power in Parliament.
On Monday, the popular tabloid Expressen published a front page starkly displaying on a black background the number of Swedes who voted for the Sweden Democrats: more than 780,000, or almost 13 percent of the total.
Thousands of protestors gathered in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo on Monday to protest against racism in reaction to the Sweden Democrats, who have roots in the white supremacist movement. “It is a sad day,” said Annie Loof, leader of the Center party.
As the scale of the gains for the Sweden Democrats became clear, their leader, Jimmie Akesson, declared to cheering supporters: “We said that we would become kingmakers, and we have done that. We said we would double our support, and we have doubled our support.”
The left-leaning Social Democrats, with 31 percent, barely exceeded their total from the previous election four years ago, a result seen as a disaster for the party and setting off a leadership fight. The Green party, the Social Democrats’ most likely coalition partner, scored less than 7 percent, and conceded its dreams of being Sweden’s third political force dashed to the far right.
Together with the Left party of former communists, the so-called red-green bloc mustered only 43.8 percent of the vote, compared with 39.3 percent for the center-right bloc — a wafer-thin margin unforeseen in opinion polls.
On Monday, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Finance Minister Anders Borg of the main governing party, the Moderates, submitted their resignations, despite having presided over a dynamic economy that quickly bounced back from the global slump of 2008.
But inequality in Sweden has grown, and with it a fear that the free market is failing to deliver the standard of welfare services that Swedes expect. The left attracted voters by promising a sharp break with the Reinfeldt government’s economic austerity policies, pledging to tax banks and the well-off to fund schools and infrastructure, and to create jobs.
Both political blocs have supported immigration policies that opened Sweden’s doors to tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, Somalia and Iraq, straining housing and public services while giving the Sweden Democrats an easy target for public dissatisfaction.
Stefan Lofven, the Social Democrat leader poised to become the new prime minister, on Monday extended a hand to smaller parties of the center-right.
“I have been negotiating most of my adult life,” Mr. Lofven, a former trade union leader, said at a news conference. “We will have a cooperation across bloc boundaries. Now begins the process of crafting alliances between the parties.”
But he faces a Rubik’s cube of political calculations, as leaders of potential coalition partners on the left and the right expressed their entrenched hostility toward each other.
“It is too early to predict if we could support a government with bourgeois ministers,” the Left party leader, Jonas Sjostedt said. “But we are not willing to be in a government with the Liberals,” a reference to a center-right party that won 5.4 percent of the vote. He also said, “we are too far away from the Center party to be in government with them.”
Mr. Lofven said later Monday that he would not have Left party members in his government, and in response, Mr. Sjostedt said that the Left would become an opposition party.
The right-leaning daily Svenska Dagbladet said in an opinion column that Mr. Lofven’s win was a “Pyrrhic victory,” describing both political blocs as losers.
The left-leaning Dagens Nyheter wrote that eight years of center-right rule had broken the political hegemony of the Social Democrats, but the price was the prospect of an era of “weak governments and painful compromises.”
Parliament reconvenes on Sept. 30, the earliest date by which Mr. Lofven can receive a formal mandate to form a government. He then has three weeks to present a budget.
Carl Bildt, the outgoing foreign minister, said on his blog, “It is in fact the most difficult parliamentary situation that we had in our modern history.”
Source: The New York Times