Sweden faces political gridlock following vote; PM invites opposition to talks

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has led a minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, with Left Party support in parliament, for the past four years.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has led a minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, with Left Party support in parliament, for the past four years.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

STOCKHOLM (REUTERS, AFP) - Sweden's Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said early on Monday (Sept 10) he would remain in office in the coming weeks and called for cooperation across the political divide after an election which showed the country heading for a hung parliament.

"We have two weeks left until parliament opens. I will work on calmly, as prime minister, respecting voters and the Swedish electoral system," Lofven told a party rally.

Lofven has led a minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, with Left Party support in parliament, for the past four years. The bloc held a wafer-thin lead over the centre-right Alliance with less than 50 of 6,004 districts still to be counted.

Sunday's vote, as expected, showed gains by the unaligned anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, leaving both the centre-left and opposition centre-right party blocs short of a majority.

"It is clear that no one has received a majority, so it's natural to have a cross-bloc cooperation," Lofven told supporters, after his bloc appeared to hold a one-seat lead over the centre-right opposition with votes in 99.8 per cent of districts counted.

"The voters have made their choice, now it's up to all of us decent parties to wait for the final result and then negotiate (and) cooperate to move Sweden forward in a responsible way," he added.

Defying calls by several leaders in the centre-right four-party Alliance, Lofven said he would "work calmly as prime minister with respect to the voters and Sweden's electoral system" for two more weeks until the new parliament opens.

"I'm of course disappointed that a party (the Sweden Democrats) with roots in Nazism can win so much ground in our time," Lofven said.

The far-right Sweden Democrats, who have capitalised on voters' frustration over immigration after the country welcomed almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012, were seen making steady gains.

A party with roots in the white supremacist fringe, it won 17.6 per cent and 63 seats, up from 12.9 per cent and 49 seats in the last election four years ago, the biggest gain by any party in Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag.

While the results also fell short of leader Jimmie Akesson's predictions of 20 per cent of the vote or more, he told a party rally it was nevertheless the winner of the election.

"We will gain huge influence over what happens in Sweden during the coming weeks, months and years," Akesson told party colleagues.

Akesson hopes his party, which wants Sweden to leave the European Union and freeze immigration, can play a decisive role in negotiations over forming a government.