01:15 Good night and good luck
Thanks for following our live blog, and please considering signing up as a Member of The Local if you haven't already. We will be back tomorrow morning (which I guess is now later this morning) with more analysis and updates. This live blog was run by myself, the Editor of The Local Sweden. I was joined by Paul O'Mahony, James Savage, Viktoriia Zhuhan, Nele Schröder, Richard Orange, Rupali Mehra and Paul Connolly, who contributed reports from across Sweden. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and found it helpful. Bye from us!
01:00 And the winner is... it's complicated
What happens now? Löfven has not resigned, so prepare for an uncertain period of long and intense negotiations about who will run Sweden in the next four years. It is unlikely that either the left-wing or the right-wing would at this stage willingly allow the other to form a government. It is even more unlikely that the Sweden Democrats, with more than 17 percent of the vote, would make way for the future government without expecting something in return – such as for example senior posts on legislative committees.
I have already linked to this analysis by political scientist Nicholas Aylott, of Södertörn University, a couple of times tonight, about the various scenarios Sweden could face, but it is helpful to understand how the process of forming a government works in Sweden. It also explains why the country may end up with a coalition that nobody really likes, but everybody tolerates. A new election is only a last resort, and remember that if there is anything the Swedes are good at, it's finding compromises where you think there are none.
Sweden, election results (5957/6004 election districts counted):— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) September 9, 2018
MP-G/EFA: 4.3%#valet2018 #val2018 #SwedenElection
00:50 Pride and disappointment at Sweden Democrat event
We're getting ready to wrap up the blog (almost, so don't leave us just yet).
Here's Paul O'Mahony's final report from the Sweden Democrats' election event:
"Well, I'm out of here. And so are most of the Sweden Democrats."
"When Jimmie Åkesson took the stage a couple of hours ago he said he'd be back later to dance with his people. His on-stage enthusiasm briefly rallied the troops, the crowd loudly chanting his name when he lost his voice and took a water break."
Åkesson opens his speech with a comment about the number of journalists in attendance: “There are just tons of journalists here, so many bloody media people.” pic.twitter.com/EpG7KvyQIt— Paul O'Mahony (@OMahonyPaul) September 9, 2018
"But the victorious tone he took rang hollow when set against the mood in the room. When asked, they expressed delight at securing their best result ever, but overheard snippets of conversation were more telling. Group leader Mattias Karlsson told a colleague he'd reveal his true feelings later in private when asked for a reaction."
"Words like 'disappointed', 'next time' and 'anti-climax' seeped out from clusters of smartly dressed supporters. Which is remarkable given the party's vote grew from 12.9 percent last time to a projected 17.7 percent this time round. And this isn't to say it was all doom and gloom. There was pride too at coming so close to dislodging the Moderates from their second-place perch."
"But the pre-election polls had clearly got into their heads: YouGov had them polling at 25 percent and becoming Sweden's biggest party – the same YouGov that got the party right last time. Other pollsters said they'd adapted their methods and were better equipped this time to gauge the SD vote, with Ipsos and Demoskop for example putting them around the 18-19 percent mark. But who could really tell?"
"Goodbye, Kristall, you were a bleak and gaudy venue but you suited the mood."
The crowd has seriously thinned out.— Paul O'Mahony (@OMahonyPaul) September 9, 2018
People look glum. They're talking up their best ever score but they are clearly disappointed. pic.twitter.com/Qo6baZJCQU
00:40 'The funeral of bloc politics'
Incumbent Prime Minister Stefan Löfven is addressing crowds at the Social Democrats' election event.
"The most responsible thing to do is not to speculate," he says. Not all votes have yet been counted. Late votes and votes from Swedes abroad will be counted on Wednesday, and it will go down to the wire.
He says he wants this election to be "the funeral of bloc politics", adding that he wants a cross-party agreement. He does not elaborate on how such an agreement would look, but argues that if the centre-right does not meet him halfway, he believes the bloc constellation with the most votes should get to govern. Löfven may find that the centre-right opposition disagrees with him on which bloc is the biggest.
"The Sweden Democrats don't have anything to offer. Their budget doesn't add up. The only thing they have to offer is growing divisions and hatred," says Löfven about the third-biggest party in Sweden.
23:55 Swedish parliament could work 'like the European Parliament'
Moderate MEP Christofer Fjellner thinks the Alliance would be able to govern despite not having a majority.
"Everyone knows that the Sweden Democrats had a fantastic election result, but they won't be able to turn that into political influence," he told The Local's James Savage at the Moderates' election night party.
"Sweden will be governed by the Alliance, a bit like we rule in the European Parliament. For me this is bread and butter – there are three blocs and then you sit in the middle and govern."
"You should never be too proud to let others vote for a good idea or for your own proposals – and the Alliance won't be when we table our proposals. That's what's been crazy, this idea that it's unacceptable to take support for a proposal from the Sweden Democrats. They can vote for what they like. In the European Parliament we don't have any permanent majorities and it will be a bit like that now – there won't be any permanent majorities."
Sofia Arkelsten, a Moderate MP and a former party secretary, underlines that you don't need a majority to rule Sweden: "This is Sweden and we're used to governing with minorities – I think there have been three majority governments since the Second World War, of which Fredrik Reinfeldt's first government was one."
Asked how she would go about sitting down and negotiating policy with the Sweden Democrats, if it came to that, she said: "It would be quite impossible, because the Sweden Democrats want to leave the EU, they're against Nato, they want to reduce the abortion limit have joint income tax for couples and raise benefits. They're the opposite of our policies, so I find it hard to see what we would have in common."
Do I detect Moderates here at their election night party smirking at Åkesson's claim to be the winner? I think I do.— James Savage (@SavLocal) September 9, 2018
22:40 Centre-right opposition leader speaks
The leader of the centre-right Moderates, Ulf Kristersson, has called on Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to resign. Kristersson argues that his bloc (the Moderates, Centre Party, Liberals and Christian Democrats) is bigger than Löfven's government coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. If you take the Left Party into account, the left-wing bloc might still technically be bigger, but Kristersson argues that it is not formally part of that bloc. It will be interesting to hear what Löfven says when he takes the stage tonight.
23:20 'Now's the moment of truth'
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson has just addressed supporters at his party's election event. The Local's Paul O'Mahony tweets:
Jimmie Åkesson puts the pressure on: "(Moderate leader) Ulf Kristersson says he wants a new government this evening. Now's the moment of truth: how are you going to change the government? Are you going to choose Stefan Löfven or are you going to choose Jimmie Åkesson?"— Paul O'Mahony (@OMahonyPaul) September 9, 2018
With almost all votes counted, it looks like the Social Democrats and the Moderates will remain the biggest parties. But the Sweden Democrats, while unlikely to be in government, may get a kingmaker role in parliament.
After Åkesson's speech I overheard a party colleague ask group leader Mattias Karlsson how he felt about the result so far. "We can talk about it later," he said. Didn't look thrilled— Paul O'Mahony (@OMahonyPaul) September 9, 2018
Åkesson: "Friends of Sweden, we are not satisfied. We see that we are this election's winners, and as we move towards a new government we intend to ensure we have real influence over Swedish politics." The crowd likes this a lot.— Paul O'Mahony (@OMahonyPaul) September 9, 2018
How did a far-right party manage to grow in a country like Sweden, known for openness and humanitarian values, is something a lot of international media have been asking. Here's some context from political scientist Niklas Bolin, of Mid-Sweden University, who told The Local's Viktoriia Zhuhan that the refugee crisis of 2015 did not trigger the rise of the Sweden Democrats, but it was "the perfect storm" for the party.
"The main explanation for why people vote for Sweden Democrats is because they are skeptical towards immigration. Another thing is that the Sweden Democrats voter is less satisfied and distrustful against politicians. They are also attracting dissatisfied voters who don't think the politicians are doing great job. So this is also anti-establishment rhetoric which resonates well with these voters," he said.
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
"This is not concentrated to Sweden. It has happened in most other west European countries before, it's a general trend that came later to Sweden. Everything suggests that radical right wing party will be pretty big and stay in the foreseeable future. Many thought of Sweden as exceptional case where we shouldn't expect the radical right wing party to have any success. But very little suggested that Sweden would be exception to this general trend that we see all over Europe," Bolin told The Local.
"Of course to some extent Swedes are more positive to immigration than people in many other countries but still there is a big minority that is skeptical towards immigration. During the last couple of years we have had major societal events such as the financial crisis 2008, then the migration crisis. These things triggered, or made it more attractive to vote for, an anti-establishment party who sort of protests against immigration, too much globalization, international corporations and the whole EU project."
"Agreements that the former centre-left government led by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and his Moderate Party that they struck with the Green Party, first in 2008 then 2011, about liberalizing Swedish migration laws, changed the whole stage a little bit. Up until the 1990s there were two parties in Sweden that had sort of restrictive migration policies. It was the Moderate Party and the Social Democrats. However when they started to become more liberal or more generous there were no restrictive parties left for the voters to choose from."
"The other side of the story is that the Sweden Democrats have struggled to change their appearance. They started out as a sort of an alt-right, racist organization back in 1988 and it was important and necessary for them to change to rebrand themselves, to get rid of the most extreme policies, to change the rhetorics and to become a serious party in the views of the voters. And that has happened over the years. Combined with sort of perfect storm which I talked of earlier , rebranding and professionalization and development of the organization for Sweden Democrats – then it became possible to become a big party like it is right now."
22:50 Dead heat
With one sixth of Sweden's voting districts left to be counted, it's 40.6% for the red-greens, 40.2% for the Alliance and 17.8% for SD. https://t.co/l7JEMovD9R— Emma Löfgren (@ekjlofgren) September 9, 2018
22:30 At the Green Party's election night party
The Local's Nele Schröder is at the Green Party's election night party, where people are trying to keep the mood relatively upbeat despite signs the Social Democrats' junior government coalition partner is struggling to stay above the four-percent threshold needed to get into parliament.
She tells me: "The Green Party celebrates tonight in arguably one of the most high-end locations: Stockholm's historic and beautiful venue Nalen. Quite a big number of people have gathered in the majestic rooms of the theatre. The atmosphere is almost holy, like something ancient and sacred taking place – if the election is something ancient and sacred that can be argued over. A DJ is producing upbeat music for a room full of people who stand under an illuminated ceiling – in the colour green of course. Banners with the party's motto – Nu (Now) – are positioned next to the stage and on a big screen above the heads of the crowd."
The Green Party election night party. Photo: Nele Schröder/The Local
22:15 Down to the wire
Sweden's official Election Authority's site is struggling to cope with the huge interest in the election, but you can follow the counting of the votes on several other sites, for example public broadcaster SVT. More than 3,000 out of 6,000 districts have so far been counted. We're expecting the final results at around 11pm.
Sweden, election results (3795/6004 election districts counted):— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) September 9, 2018
MP-G/EFA: 4.5%#valet2018 #val2018 #SwedenElection
Although I did just say "final results", it is worth remembering that we will actually only get preliminary results tonight. Any late votes and votes by Swedes abroad get counted on Wednesday (that's usually around 300,000 votes, political scientist Henrik Oscarsson points out on Twitter). It usually doesn't change the final result much, but in an election as tight as this one, every little vote counts. This will go down to the wire.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven arriving at the Social Democrats' election party earlier today. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
22:05 '2018 is to conservatism what 1968 was to the left'
Paul O'Mahony just sent me this from the Sweden Democrats' election party, where the mood has swung considerably:
"Parliamentary group leader Mattias Karlsson doesn't want to get ahead of the result but is buoyed by the early signs after SVT's exit poll put the party at 19.2 percent. He has just spoken on stage about the historic rise of his party and its place in a world where populists are enjoying much success: '2018 is to conservatism what 1968 was to the left,' he says."
"It's noticeable how people are much more comfortable giving their names than they were previously. When I covered the 2010 election it was almost impossible to get anyone to come out as a Sweden Democrat. People said they feared being shunned socially and in the workplace."
"Fast forward to 2018 and here's a celebrity blogger quite happy to be associated with the party:"
22:00 'I'd hoped for better figures for the Moderates'
The Local's James Savage spoke to Maria Ludvigson, leader-writer for the Moderate-supporting Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.
Your reaction to the exit polls?
"I'd hoped for better figures for the Moderates, but this result shows that the centre-right Alliance with a tiny lead, one seat, and this gives hope. But I think a lot of people are looking at the Sweden Democrats and what's going on there."
What do you think these results would mean in terms of forming a government?
"You never know, but if these results stand it gives the speaker a clear mandate, once he's been to Stefan Löfven, to go to Ulf Kristersson. That's good, because in many ways he's the 'grown up in the room'."
"He's been a bit on the sidelines in the debates, but that's quite healthy – the others have been bickering – it shows that there's a person here who takes things seriously. It's not just about televised debates, it's about having a four-year perspective, an eight-year perspective and a twelve-year perspective."
And which parties would he govern with?
"I think it will be with the Alliance. And if that didn't work – some people think the Centre Party can't be involved if the Sweden Democrats are being relied on for support – then they are in the same position that Stefan Löfven has been in. That is to say that he has got his policies through thanks to or despite the Sweden Democrats. It's a bit dishonourable for the Social Democrats to ask the Moderates 'how you going to manage, with support from the Sweden Democrats?': they need it too. It's exactly the same situation as now, but with a centre-right government."
And you don't think that the Liberals or Centre Party would help the Social Democrats form a government?
"No, because if you look for example at economic policy you can see that the biggest difference between any parties is between the Social Democrats on the one side and the Centre Party and Liberals on the other. We've ignored that for some reason in this campaign, but it means that it would be unreasonable for them to present a joint budget – they are further apart from each other than even the Moderates and Social Democrats. It's a shame that right now we're talking too little about real politics, we're just talking about migration."
21:45 Talking to voters on the island of Gotland
We have had reactions from all over Sweden today, and earlier today The Local's Rupali Mehra sent us this report from her late-afternoon visit to a polling station in Visby on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland:
Östercentrum, a shopping hub in Visby, buzzing with political activity in the past few weeks, wore a deserted look, but for one elderly man standing with a placard. 'Nej till högerpopulism' (No to right populism). He and his wife were happy to be photographed, but declined to mention their names due to concerns of getting "hate mail". "I am celebrating 100 years of democracy in Sweden," he told The Local, showing off his bright red tie.
Two Gotland voters, photographed earlier today. Photo: Rupali Mehra/The Local
Gotland has a population of 58,000 and the average age is 44.6 years, according to Region Gotland's 2017 data. Among the youth, immigration is a keenly debated issue. So is global warming and the environment. Several young people said they cast their vote keeping these issues in mind.
"'I live in a student dorm, and even though I separate my garbage, we don't have a recycling facility as it is too expensive. That is a real concern for me,' says Johan Fällberg. For others like Max Kusserow, a student of archaeology, it is lack of affordable housing. Sweden has been reeling under a housing crisis.
21:30 'During this campaign tempers flared'
Carlos, 29, an international student from Mexico, told her he was impressed how "civilized" the elections and the campaign were. "The tents of opposing parties stand next to each other and they all campaign peacefully at the same time. In Mexico this would never happen, they would kill each other."
He said the rise of the far-right doesn't scare him. "It's important to not radicalize them. I'm not afraid for myself as I'm in Sweden legally and I'm not violating any laws."
Diana, 25, from Belarus was impressed how many foreign students are taking an interest in Swedish elections. As for Swedes, she didn't expect emotions to be running as high as they have. "When you usually perceive Swedes as calm and self-controlled, during this campaign tempers flared, everyone took a stance."
For another international take on the Swedish election, The Local's Rupali Mehra reflected on the difference between campaigning in Sweden and her home country in an article about "the many flavours of two thriving democracies".
21:20 'The Social Democrats would have to hand over power'
James Savage asked political scientist Stigbjörn Ljunggren for his thoughts on the exit poll.
What do the exit poll results tell us?
"It confirms what the polls have told us – that we have three blocs in Sweden, but also that we have 70 percent of parties that are normal and which could form a government if they take Sweden's fate seriously."
And which parties would you not include among the normal parties?
"The Sweden Democrats and Left Party – the parties that find it most difficult to work with the normal parties."
The Greens are on 4.2 percent [in SVT's exit poll – scroll down for more], just above the four-percent threshold to get into parliament. How reliable are the exit polls – are they in the danger zone?
"They are very much in the danger zone. There have been indications of this over the past week that support for them among the public is lower than the polls show."
If they didn't come in, what would it mean in terms of forming a government?
"It would mean that the left bloc has broken up. It would mean there's no possibility for the Social Democrats to form a government other than by having some centrist parties with them. The Social Democrats would have to hand over power."
What's your top tip for the next government?
"It's that [Moderate leader] Ulf Kristersson and the Christian Democrats form a government with the support of the Sweden Democrats. They have around 40 percent together."
What form would that support take?
"The Sweden Democrats would let them govern and then gradually during the next four years tighten the thumbscrews, bit by bit. They might right from the beginning force them to govern with a Social Democrat budget, like they did with the Social Democrats [in 2014], when they had to govern with a centre-right budget for the first year."
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20:40 'It's become so scrappy. I miss the democratic conversation'
The Local's James Savage caught up with Jan Scherman, a former CEO of Swedish TV4 who has made a series of films about the future of Swedish democracy, earlier tonight. He gave a downbeat assessment of the state of Swedish democracy. His solution – revive popular membership of political parties:
"Swedish democracy isn't in good health, but this isn't something that started today, this is a process that has been going on for some time," he told The Local.
"The parties have lost members, lost contact with their voters and, to simplify a bit, become a kind of elite like people talk about in other Western European countries and the US. It's very hard to get out of this: Facebook groups are more active than party members."
"We should focus on the party system more than we have done before, and less on globalization and power structures in society. There are problems with these things, but this is the core of the problem."
What are your thoughts ahead of tonight's result?
"The whole Swedish political map has been blown apart. We have a red-green constellation and a [centre-right] Alliance and the Sweden Democrats. Just this simple fact, even before we have a result, should lead to an abrupt awakening among the political parties. They've lost their footing. This is a warning signal to the big elephants who are going to lose most, the Moderates and the Social Democrats."
"The parties are no longer dependent on their members, they've become dependent on handouts in the form of the financial support from the state that they have decided to award themselves. This is an anaesthetic that means they don't have to engage actively with the voters."
What are your thoughts about how the foreign media have covered the election?
"We in Sweden have provided the world with lots of doomsday images of Sweden. For me an election campaign should strike a balance between talking about what's good in a country, what could be better and what is definitely bad. But we've had a campaign where the emphasis has been on what's bad and this has given the rest of the world a distorted image. We're a rich country, with excellent growth and a good economy – but with long queues in the healthcare system and problems with schools."
And the Swedish media's coverage?
"Churchill once said 'Never have so many owed so much to so few'. In Sweden the campaign has been a case of 'never have so many voters had so many column inches about the election campaign but been given so little knowledge'. It's become so scrappy. I miss the democratic conversation, where party leaders sit on a programme and talk for half an hour about what their party wants to do."
20:30 What's going to happen next? Who knows!
We now reach that point of the evening when everyone starts speculating wildly about what's going to happen in the future despite having no actual results to base such speculation on, only vague exit polls. I will try not to do that too much (and please forgive me if I do it just a little), but if you do want to know what a possible government constellation might look like, this analysis by political scientist Nicholas Aylott is quite helpful.
The Local's Nele Schröder was at the Liberal Party's election night party earlier. They are part of the four-party right-wing opposition, usually referred to as the 'Alliance' here in Sweden. Here's what it looked like:
20:15 'Deflation and disbelief'
The Local's Paul O'Mahony reports that there was "huge disappointment" and "deflation and disbelief" in the room at the Sweden Democrats' election event as the first exit poll was released tonight. The party has been polling at between 16 and 25 percent in the run-up to the election, so they were probably hoping for more.
Not that Sweden's two other major parties, the Social Democrats and the Moderates, have much to celebrate. If these predicted results hold, the "winners" of the election are two smaller parties, the Left and the Centre.
The SVT exit polls put the Left Party at 9 percent, the Centre at 8.9, the Christian Democrats at a surprising 7.4 (they had been struggling in opinion polls ahead of the election, but perhaps they got some support votes to keep them in parliament), the Social Democrats at 26.2, the Moderates at 17.8 (both giants down by around four to five percent on the 2014 election), and the Liberals at 5.5. The same polls put the Green Party at 4.2 percent, which means it is very close to the four-percent threshold needed to get into parliament.
Still waving the balloons but the mood is subdued pic.twitter.com/h3PQBgE5xU— Paul O'Mahony (@OMahonyPaul) September 9, 2018
20:05 More exit polls as voting closes in Sweden
Swedish public broadcaster SVT has now presented its exit polls, which similarly to TV4's survey (scroll down for that) shows an almost even split between the two blocs. SVT puts the red-green bloc at 39.4 percent and the right-wing Alliance at 39.6 percent, and the nationalist Sweden Democrats at 19.2 percent.
Voting has now closed. Counting begins. In a few hours, we'll see how spot on the exit polls were.
19:55 First exit polls
Swedish broadcaster TV4 has just presented its first exit polls. It gives the left-wing red-green bloc 41 percent, the right-wing Alliance 40.1 percent and the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats 16.3 percent.
That's more than the Sweden Democrats got in the last election (when it got 12.9 percent of the vote), but less than polls have predicted, and presumably a lot less than the party had expected.
The same polls put the ruling Social Democrats at a historic low of 25.4 percent, while opposition party the Moderates drop to 18.4 percent. The Left Party climbs to 9.8 percent, the Green Party gets 5.8 percent, the Centre Party 9.4, the Christian Democrats 6.6 and the Liberals 5.7 percent, according to TV4's exit polls.
As always, it is a good idea to take exit polls with a grain of salt.
19:45 The world is watching
Paul O'Mahony, reporting from the Sweden Democrats' election night party, writes: "International interest in the performance of the Sweden Democrats is huge. Journalists from all over the world outnumber the party faithful here in the early stages. Everyone seems to expect a full-on party later since it's almost inevitable the party will record its best ever score."
"There's a noticeably sizeable Norwegian contingent in place to document the neighbours' embrace of the far right (although the Norway-Bulgaria football match happening simultaneously is also generating interest.)"
19:30 Prime Minister Stefan Löfven arrives
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven just arrived at the Social Democrats' election night party. Will he still be prime minister after today? His party may still be the biggest party after the votes are in, and certainly in healthier condition than many other social democracies in Europe, but it's likely to be the party's worst election ever. Scroll down to see the most recent opinion polls. Voting closes in 20 minutes, so expect exit polls soon.
From a party that used to dominate the political landscape, to less than third of the vote.
19:10 International coverage of the election
Plenty of international journalists have been flown in for the occasion (I have already heard English, Italian, Danish and Finnish being spoken in the press centre at the Social Democrats' election party). The election has been grabbing headlines in some of the world's largest newspapers in the run-up to voting day.
But perhaps an unproportional amount of attention has been devoted to the immigration issue, forgetting that although it is certainly a topic that is being hotly debated here in Sweden, there are also other issues that are likely to have influenced voters: the climate, for example, is one of the top concerns after a record-hot Nordic summer, not to mention Sweden's housing crisis, healthcare and education.
The Local's reporter Viktoriia Zhuhan spoke to Christian Christensen, who is an American based in Sweden and professor of journalism at Stockholm University, ahead of election day about the media coverage.
He said: "Generally, I have found the international coverage of the upcoming elections in Sweden to be disappointing, as media outlets have presented a rather decontextualized version of what is going on in Sweden. For example, many outlets have suggested that what we are seeing with the Sweden Democrats is a recent 'explosion' of popularity, rather than presenting a longer-term view where the ten-year rise of the party is discussed. Or, that the right-wing have 'taken over' Sweden despite the fact that around 80 percent of the country won't vote for them."
"Also, while pointing out the importance of immigration in the Swedish political landscape, international outlets have failed to address the intake of refugees and immigrants prior to those arriving from Syria (such as those from Iraq). These immigrants have been here for over a decade, and it would have added a great deal to have some analysis of how those immigrants have done since their arrival."
"Finally, and this is a criticism I have made many times, non-Swedish reporters often cling to a rather stereotypical, two-dimensional view of 'traditional' Sweden (it's all socialism, welfare, Abba, Ikea). That's a vision of the country that really needs to be updated."
The Local's co-founder James Savage has also criticized international parachute journalism, likening it to "a journalist covering a US election who arrived in Washington a week before, had paid no attention to US politics for the preceding four years and didn't speak English. You now have a picture of many of the foreign journalists covering Sweden" in this opinion piece which is already one of our most-read election articles.
19:00 What's the real face of the Sweden Democrats?
The Local's Paul O'Mahony is at the Sweden Democrats' election night party. He just sent me this:
"The Sweden Democrats are holding their election night shindig at Kristall, a nightclub in central Stockholm (that's missing a couple of letters in its signage)."
The Kristall nightclub in central Stockholm. Photo: Paul O'Mahony/The Local
"The party has its roots in the Nazi movement but holds a pivotal role in parliament after scoring 12.9 percent in the 2014 general election and is widely expected to perform a lot better this time. The average score from the last eight polls puts the party on 19.1 percent (scroll down the page for the full poll), which would make it the country's second largest political force behind the governing Social Democrats."
"Leader Jimmie Åkesson has for years sought to distance the party from its racist beginnings but the persistent emergence of Nazi links, most recently last week, helps explain why none of the seven other parties in the Riksdag want to form a government with them."
Fittingly, this is the picture that graces the wall in front of me in the depths of the Kristallen nightclub. Which is the real face of the Sweden Democrats?
Which is the true face of the Sweden Democrats? Photo: Paul O'Mahony/The Local
"But will anyone get into bed with them this time? Political scientist Nicholas Aylott explains the likeliest scenarios here. One alternative he touches on would have the centre-right Alliance breaking the cordon sanitaire around the party to enter into a Faustian pact of sorts."
"I'll be bringing you updates from here throughout the evening. Jimmie Åkesson is expected to show up after 10pm. We should know soon after that how far his party has come since gaining its first seats in parliament just eight years ago."
18:50 Welcome to a Swedish valvaka
Hello everyone! For those of you tuning in to this live blog just now, I'm The Local Sweden's editor Emma Löfgren and I'm running our live election blog this evening. I'm at the Social Democrats' election night party, held at an art centre in southern Stockholm suburb Liljeholmen. Sweden's biggest party and the influential force in Swedish politics for most of the 20th century, the party now looks set to have its worst election ever.
We'll see how it goes.
Meanwhile, my colleague Paul O'Mahony is at the Sweden Democrats' election night party (or, as it is known in Swedish, valvaka), Nele Schröder is out and about interviewing voters in Stockholm and our Malmö reporter Richard Orange just sent me this from a traditionally left-wing district of Sweden's third biggest city:
Canvassers in Malmö. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local
Mac Tamandi, who came to Sweden from Cameroon 40 years ago, voted earlier in the day at the polling station at Stenkulaskolan, where he works as a janitor.
"I haven't voted for a right-wing party at any rate because they're after my ass," he told The Local. "They're the ones who want to to kick me out of here. They have a different tone now, but I know what they were like in the beginning. I've followed [Sweden Democrat leader] Jimmie Åkesson since he was about 20. Maybe he's singing sweet music today, but it's going to be bitter music if he's in power."
Mac Tamandi. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local
Emil Jönsson turned up to vote for the Green Party dressed in a jacket, trilby hat and bow tie.
"It's voting day. You have to dress yourself up," he explained. "It's a festival like Christmas or Midsummer."
He said he was worried about the situation.
"It's very unclear, it feels pretty scary that so many will vote for the Sweden Democrats."
He said that he would support the Green Party's leaders if they joined a centre-right bloc to prevent the Sweden Democrats having leverage over the government.
"That would be better than that Sweden Democrats have influence," he said.
Emil Jönsson. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local
Another Malmö resident, Leo Nitar, said he was just accompanying his girlfriend to the voting station and wasn't going to vote himself.
"There's no reason to vote. They all have the same view of everything," he said. "They've got no brains. They can't even think."
He said he wasn't worried about the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats gaining influence, despite his own Kosovan background.
"SD can do well, yes, but they can't get me. I'm a Swedish citizen and I've lived here all my life, I've always worked and I've paid taxes all my life. They can't just throw out anyone they like."
ELECTION Q&A: Where does your party stand on dual citizenship?
17:20 Let's get these election night parties started
The live blog is going to take a short break while I make my way to the Social Democrats' election night party. I'll continue blogging from there. My colleague Paul O'Mahony is on his way to the Sweden Democrats' election party. We also hope to have reports from some of the other parties' celebrations or mourning sessions (depending on their results) later. Meanwhile, read the rest of our election coverage here.
17:15 Immigration not the only issue in this election
The Local's northern Sweden correspondent Paul Connolly has been talking to voters in Skellefteå. He writes: "Northern Swedish voters aren't nearly so exercised by immigration as their southern counterparts. Although most municipalities up here have taken in a substantial number of refugees, there is much less concern about the effect on demographics – after all, most areas in Norrland need more people, not fewer."
"Many voters up here tend to focus on health and education issues and more regional concerns, such as transport and the methods of funding local services. Many northerners resent the amount of money that flows south from northern industry, especially from power companies."
One voter, Anna Löfgren, told him: "I don't think immigration is as big an issue as it might be down south. We're more concerned with healthcare, elderly care, education and also maybe issues in relation to taxes on jet fuel – while we know that it's important to protect the environment, the north needs affordable airfares because of the greater distances we have to travel. But the north of Sweden has always been a very strong Social Democrat region. People here think it is very important to help the weaker and poorer, and if that is to be through taxes, then so be it. Sadly, most of the political parties are dominated by politicians who are mainly focused on the larger cities in the south of Sweden and have a very Stockholm perspective on a lot of things."
Another voter, Jonas Persson, said: "I think the main issues in rural areas are about centralization – people are concerned that they have fewer police stations, ambulances, schools, banks, and other public utilities close by. Some parties have proposed a system that is closer to Norway's approach, which is to allow northern municipalities to keep the profits from natural resources but there hasn't been much debate around it. Immigration is, of course, also a thing, but we don't have close to the same issues as they have in larger cities in the south. As far as party preferences are concerned, local politicians up here tend to agree about a lot of stuff so I'm not sure how much the party differences actually matter."
16:50 Talking to voters in Rinkeby
The Local's reporter Nele Schröder has been talking to voters in Rinkeby north of Stockholm. The suburb, listed as one of Sweden's "vulnerable suburbs", had one of the lowest voter turnouts in Stockholm in the last election in 2014, with only around half the eligible population voting (compared to a national average of above 80 percent). But when The Local visited a polling station in the area, there were plenty of people there.
"Right now, there are people being openly racist on TV; it feels like I'm watching Hitler on TV. The problem is that they're talking for us or about us but never with us. If these people would just take the time to come here and talk to us instead of just about us, that would change a lot. But they're not talking about our concerns, just about their issues with our existence. Their solution is to send us back home but it's like... where is 'home'?" said Imenella Mohamed, a 30-year-old artist.
"I voted red because that's the humane thing to do. Period. I hope that more people realize how important it is to vote and that YOUR vote is actually important."
Imenella Mohamed. Photo: Nele Schröder/The Local
Jasmin Jamal, 30, a social worker, told The Local she "voted for a person that people believe would do good stuff in this world". She said: "Sometimes I feel like Swedish politicians talk about my concerns, sometimes not so much. But the parliament I voted for, they're more likely to actually do stuff for the people, for everyone. Not just for some people but for everyone equally."
Jasmin Jamal. Photo: Nele Schröder/TT
"Issues that are important for me are schools, hospitals and the neighbourhood I live in. I hope they understand that having stricter laws and cops here is not the solution. The solution is to talk more with each other, to sit down and find a solution together. And locally to ask the people who live here, who know the everyday struggle," added Jamal.
We'll have more from other parts of Stockholm soon.
16:40 Voting closes in less than four hours
Sweden generally has high voter turnout, with more than 80 percent of the eligible population voting. The party leaders have also cast their votes. Here's a gallery of what that looked like. I call this one "politicians licking envelopes".
16:00 The rural-urban divide
The Local's Malmö reporter Richard Orange visited the nearby town of Sjöbo earlier today, the anti-immigration stronghold where the Sweden Democrats hope to get a third of the vote in the local election.
"You can get upset about the party and you can say bad things about their supporters, but the Sweden Democrats are a result of bad politics in my opinion," one voter told him. "The way I see it SD is a protest party and they wouldn't have needed to exist if politics had been done in another way."
The Sweden Democrats tend to have larger support in rural areas of Sweden, capitalizing on voters who often feel they have been left behind by an increasingly urban middle class. But many are still uneasy with the party's roots in neo-Nazi movements and dormant racism that still occasionally rears its head. More than a dozen prospective representatives have been crossed off the party's ballots in recent weeks for spreading neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic propaganda on social media after it was reported by Swedish media.
And even in areas badly affected by the closure of industries, they hardly have unlimited support. The Local's contributor Victoria Martínez, who lives in rural Småland county, writes: "Among our local friends and co-workers, there is general agreement that the racism and intolerance of Jimmie Åkesson and the Swedish Democrats discredit everything they propose, even those policies that on their own might have merit. Clearly, few of those we have spoken to have or are casting a vote in that direction."
"There is also concern about how a potential coalition government with the Swedish Democrats would place radicalized ideas into otherwise rational politics. Although we live in a small municipality where the primary source of employment is industry, these concerns seem to be in line with those from among our broader base of friends and contacts around the rest of the country."
Sweden Democrat ballots. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT
15:40 What's at stake?
So, what do you need to know about today's election, or elections? Voters are casting their ballots in three elections today: national, regional and local. Understandably, the national one tends to get the most attention.
What's at stake? Well, 349 seats in Sweden's one-chamber parliament (riksdagen). Here's some trivia you can impress people with at parties (this is why I don't get invited to parties): Sweden used to have a 350-seat parliament. The election of 1973 saw the seats split between the left and the right-wing bloc, leading to MPs occasionally having to draw sticks every time both sides had the same number of 'yeas' or 'nays'.
This was considered very impractical, and so it was changed to 349 MPs in 1976. But I digress.
There are eight parties currently represented in Sweden's parliament. On the left, the two incumbents in Sweden's minority government: the Social Democrats and the Greens, who enjoy the informal support of the Left Party in parliament. On the right, the so-called 'Alliance': the Moderates, Centre Party, Liberals and the Christian Democrats. In their own little corner, the far-right, nationalist, anti-immigration, populist (what SHOULD we call them?) Sweden Democrats. We'll talk more about them, and the rest of the parties, later.
Want to know more about what policies they support? Read our guide here.
15:20 Can we trust the opinion polls?
Sweden's two major blocs consist of, on the left, the Social Democrats (S), Greens (MP), Left (L), and on the right, the Moderates (M), Liberals (L), Centre (C) and Christian Democrats (KD). The table below shows the average result of eight of the largest opinion polls below, courtesy of val.digital. It also shows the Sweden Democrats (SD) as well as the largest party of those not big enough to make it above the four-percent parliament threshold, Feminist Initiative (FI). The grey column on the right shows other parties ('övriga').
As you can see, it's looking like a very close race with the left-wing bloc showing a slight advantage with almost 40 percent on Sunday afternoon, compared to the right-wing 'Alliance' opposition at around 37 percent. But individually, the results vary greatly between different polls, with for example the Sweden Democrats polling between 16 to 25 percent, depending on which survey you consult.
The Local's reporter Viktoriia Zhuhan spoke to David Ahlin, an analyst at major polling agency Ipsos, ahead of election day to find out more about how to read the polls and predict the results. Here's what he told us:
"The closer to the elections the polls were conducted, the more accurate the results tend to be. With this election, the biggest challenge for the pollsters was that we all use different methodology. If ten years ago we used the same methods, now there is a big variety. This may be one of the reasons why the results don't always coincide."
"Also, the behavior of the voters changed. While the older generations behave just like ten years ago – for example, their major source of news is linear TV, the younger voters consume different types of media, including social media, which influences their choices."
"But when we speak about distrust in polls, there is a popular misconception that they failed to predict Brexit or the victory of Donald Trump. However, in both cases the most recent polls then showed an advantage towards the 'leave' vote and Donald Trump respectively while half-way through both campaigns many voters would state the opposite or were undecided."
15:00 Welcome to The Local's live blog
Hej from Stockholm, where polling stations have been open for seven hours.
The Local Sweden's editor Emma Löfgren will be presenting the live updates throughout the afternoon and night in this election blog. We expect the first exit polls at around 8pm. Later tonight, our journalists will have the latest from the parties' (<-- the political kind) election night parties (<-- the festive kind), so stay tuned.
We'll also have plenty of analysis, with reports and comments from across Sweden. If you're new to the scene, don't miss our guide to the Swedish parties' election promises and the lowdown on the party leaders.
You can also read up on all our election coverage here.
If you're a Member of The Local, I recommend our "Election Q&A" guide. We asked all the parties about the issues that matter the most to you: housing, work permits, language tests, dual citizenship and much more.
Finally, if you have any questions or thoughts about the election process or outcome, please comment below, tweet us, or e-mail. I may not have time to answer everyone about everything, but I'll do my best.
08:00 Voting opens
Polling stations across Sweden have opened for one of the most hotly contested elections in recent history. The Local will kick off our live blog at 3pm with the first exit polls expected shortly after voting closes at 8pm.
Early voting of course started over a fortnight ago, but millions are still expected to cast their ballot today. Sweden typically has a high turnout, with 86 percent of the eligible population voting in the 2014 election.
To keep yourself busy in the meantime, follow our reporters Emma Löfgren, Paul O'Mahony and James Savage on Twitter, and read The Local's top ten articles about Swedish politics and the election.