Mon, Sep 15, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Swedish center-left leading polls

CHANGING CLIMATE:High unemployment and rising concern about asylum seekers vied with frustration over center-right fiscal austerity policies for attention

Reuters, STOCKHOLM

Polls showed Sweden’s center-left opposition heading for a narrow election victory yesterday, on a platform of increased spending on job schemes, healthcare and schools after eight years of tax cuts under the center-right Alliance.

The Social Democrats, the largest single party and polling about 30 percent, hope to rule with the Green Party. However, they are likely to rely on winning support from the Left Party and possibly smaller parties in the Alliance to form a government.

Negotiations could be hard and protracted.

Many Swedes are worried that reforms under the Alliance government 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.

However, a splintered opposition has failed to tap into voter unease and is unlikely to win a clear majority in parliament. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats may hold the balance of power, but other parties refuse to work with them.

“All the signs point to the fact that the center-left are going to be bigger than the Alliance, but that they won’t get a majority,” said Mikael Sundstrom, a political scientist at Lund University. “It is going to be a very difficult situation for them.”

One poll late on Saturday put the gap between the center-left and the four-party Alliance government at just 3 percentage points.

Voting with his wife yesterday in a sunny central Stockholm, Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven said he would continue campaigning until polls closed at 18:00 GMT.

“I feel good and I think we have a strong chance,” Lofven said, dressed in a dark suit and a purple tie and surrounded by a crowd of reporters. “We have focused on our main issues — jobs, schools, welfare.”

Widely admired for its strong economy, stable government and liberal attitude to immigration, Sweden nevertheless faces significant challenges, which a weak government would struggle to deal with.

Unemployment is high at 8 percent, hitting immigrants and young people especially, and a potential housing bubble threatens economic stability.

The rise of the far-right points to a society starting to question its role as what Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt calls “a humanitarian superpower.”

The Sweden Democrats, who want to cut the number of asylum seekers by 90 percent, are set to double their share of the vote to around 10 percent.

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