Exit poll: Sweden opposition wins without majority

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The left-leaning opposition looked like the clear winner of Sweden's election Sunday but without a parliamentary majority, an exit poll showed.

The poll by public broadcaster SVT gave the Social Democratic-led Red-Green bloc 44.8 percent of the votes, compared to 39.7 percent for the center-right Alliance that's been in power for the past eight years.

If the result stands, eight years of tax cuts and pro-market policies under Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt are likely over in Sweden.

But it would also mean that a complicated situation looms, with Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven likely to form a new government, but with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats holding the balance of power in Parliament. The once radical far-right party almost doubled its support to 10.5 percent in the exit poll.

That could make it difficult for Lofven to govern. If he wins the election, he's expected to enter coalition talks with the environmentalist Green Party and the ex-communist Left Party.

But even with the added support of a small feminist party, which the exit poll showed balancing on the 4 percent threshold to enter Parliament, he would be unlikely to get a majority.

Political analyst Mikael Sundstrom of Lund University said Lofven may try to win over one of the four center-right parties in Reinfeldt's Alliance to build a stronger coalition, though none of them have expressed a desire to work with the Social Democrats.

Reinfeldt, who took office in 2006, is the longest-serving conservative leader in Swedish history. Though he's won praise internationally for steering Sweden's economy through Europe's debt crisis in relatively good shape, many Swedes worry his pro-market policies have undermined the welfare system.

Reinfeldt's Alliance has cut income and corporate taxes, abolished a tax on wealth and trimmed welfare benefits. It has also eased labor laws and privatized state-owned companies, including the maker of Absolut vodka.

Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor has grown faster in Sweden than in most developed countries, though it remains among the world's most egalitarian, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"I hope that there will be a change," said Jonathan Andersson, a 25-year-old chef in Stockholm who blamed the government for his problems finding a "proper" job. "They changed the employment law and now I just get temporary work."

Martin Holmen, a volunteer campaign worker for Reinfeldt's Moderate Party, said many voters didn't give the government enough credit for making Sweden's economy one of the strongest in Europe.

"We have had the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s. But people in Sweden have hardly noticed it," Holmen said. "That's a very good grade for the Alliance."


AP video journalist Jona Kallgren contributed to this report.


Karl Ritter can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karl_ritter