EXPLAINER: What to know ahead of Sweden’s election on Sunday

Sweden is holding elections on Sunday to elect lawmakers to the 349-seat Riksdag as well as local offices across the country of 10 million people. Early voting began on August 24, so many people will have already voted by Election Day. Here are some key things to know about voting.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is fighting to keep her centre-left Social Democrats leading a left-wing coalition but faces a tough challenge from the right.

Sweden is known for being a cradle-to-grave welfare society and Andersson would like to preserve the social welfares that have long defined Sweden and reverse some of the market-oriented changes by a previous government. His party believes that some of the changes, such as state subsidies to private schools, create greater inequality.

The once mighty Social Democrats have been in power since 2014. But as the party’s popularity wanes from its 20th century peak, it has been forced to preside over a weaker government that relies more on other parties to pass laws, a situation that has produced political instability over the past eight years.

WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN?

There are two large blocks, with four parties on the left and four on the right. Polls leading up to the election showed the two blocs nearly tied, with an outcome that was impossible to predict.

Under Swedish law, the party that wins the most seats is responsible for forming a government. Polls show it is likely Andersson’s party, in which case it would be up to her first to try to form a coalition government with majority support in the legislature.

But if the left as a whole is performing poorly, it might not be able to form a coalition. In this case, the baton would have passed to the second largest party to try to form a government.

WHICH PARTY IS IN THE NO. 2 SEATS ?

In the last election, in 2018, the moderates led by Ulf Kristersson, a centre-right party, won the second most seats. The Conservative Party promotes a market economy, lower taxes and a lesser role for government in a country with a generous welfare state supported by high taxes.

But like the Social Democrats and many other mainstream parties across Europe for that matter, the Moderates have also seen their popularity with voters wane amid a populist challenge from further to the right.

WHO ARE THE POPULISTS?

The Swedish Democrats, a right-wing populist party that takes a hard line on immigration and crime, first entered parliament in 2010 and have grown steadily ever since.

The party won 13% of the vote in 2018, becoming the third force in parliament. Polls show that should improve from Sunday’s.

Some Swedes describe the party as Trumpist and feel disheartened that it was founded by far-right extremists decades ago, unsure whether to trust it in its transformation into a party more traditional conservative.

The party is led by Jimmie Akesson, a 43-year-old former web designer who has been the driving force in trying to moderate the party’s image.

However, the party clearly tapped into the social mood. Its success can also be measured by the fact that other parties have come closer to its positions, as many Swedes believe they can bear the costs of the generous refugee policies of the past for a long time to come and seek to suppress the crime.

Once treated as pariahs, other conservative parties are increasingly willing to deal with Sweden’s Democrats.

HOW SERIOUS IS CRIME IN SWEDEN?

Some of the immigrants who have been welcomed to Sweden in recent years have had difficulty integrating into Swedish society, which has led to segregated neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Gang violence mainly occurs within criminal networks trafficking drugs or involved in other illicit activities. But there have been recent cases of innocent bystanders being injured. So far this year, 48 people have been killed by firearms in Sweden, three more than in 2021.

Fears over the constant news of shootings and explosions in inner city neighborhoods have made crime one of the most pressing issues for voters.

“Shooting and bomb explosions have increased in recent years and (this violence) is now considered a big social problem. I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as Mexico, but we’re on the right track,” said Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University in southern Sweden.

THE GENDER FACTOR

Andersson became Sweden’s first female prime minister less than a year ago – a late step for a country that in many ways is an example of gender equality.

“I was really proud,” said Ulrika Hoonk, a 39-year-old woman who voted early in Stockholm on Friday night, saying it took “far too long” for this to happen.

Polls show Andersson’s party to be particularly popular with women, with men tending to vote more conservative.

Even though Andersson is the first prime minister, there are still many women represented in positions of authority. Four party leaders are women and one party has a woman and a man who share the leadership. In parliament, the gender balance has long been split roughly 50-50.

Several women interviewed this week said finally having a female leader was very important to them, and a factor they considered when deciding which party to support.

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Mary I. Bruner