Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right coalition won 49.2 percent of votes and 173 seats in Sweden’s 349-seat parliament, two short of a majority, according to a tally of votes from 96 percent of electoral districts.
That compared to 43.6 percent of votes and 156 seats for the left-wing opposition led by Social Democrat Mona Sahlin.
The far-right Sweden Democrats meanwhile garnered 5.8 percent of votes – well above the four-percent barrier to enter parliament – and a full 20 seats in the house.
Even with a handful of parliamentary seats, observers have cautioned the far-right party could force Reinfeldt to seek new alliances or even make it so difficult to govern that new elections would need to be called.
Reinfeldt’s first-place finish nevertheless spelled a decisive end to the rival Social Democrats’ 80-year domination of Swedish politics and their role as caretakers of the country’s famous cradle-to-grave welfare state.
The party, which for the first time had created a coalition of left-wing parties to increase its chances of winning power, suffered a historic loss according to near final results, which showed it had garnered just 30.8 percent, down from 35.3 percent in 2006, when its score was already one of its weakest on record.
However, the party is still the most popular single party, with the Moderates next at 30 percent, early results showed.
Jan Eliasson, a former Social Democratic foreign minister, insisted late on Sunday that the apparent poor showing for his party would not weaken Sahlin’s position.
“She is a strong and very admired leader and she has really shown herself to have prime minister qualities during this campagn,” he told Swedish public television.
Partial results indicated more than 82 percent of Sweden’s 7 million electorate had cast their ballots Sunday.
Towards the end of the campaign, focused largely on the economy and the future of the welfare state, both Sahlin and Reinfeldt stressed the importance of achieving a majority government to offset the sway of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.
“Now we are in parliament … Today we have together written political history!” party leader Jimmie Aakesson told a cheering crowd at their election headquarters.
During the campaign, both Reinfeldt’s coalition and Mona Sahlin’s opposition bloc promised not to cooperate with the far-right, opening the way to reworked coalition blocs and possibly even new elections.
However, Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson told AFP a few days ago those assurances would not hold true once his party was actually voted in.
“They have to say that until Sunday, but we’ll hear something else Monday,” Åkesson predicted.
Reinfeldt has hinted he would try to cooperate with the Green Party if his coalition falls short of a majority, while Sahlin said she would try to woo over the Liberal and Centre parties. Final results are not likely ready until Wednesday at the earliest, according to election authorities.