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Swedish center-right leader Ulf Kristersson claims election win, faces tough coalition talks

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s center-right opposition leader Ulf Kristersson claimed victory Wednesday evening in his country’s general election after three days of meticulous vote counting resulted in a narrow three-seat advantage for his side.

“We have an election result, we have the mandate for change we asked for,” Moderate Party leader Kristersson said as the result was announced. “I will now begin the process of forming a new government for Sweden and all its citizens.”

Outgoing premier Magdalena Andersson conceded defeat, saying it was clear her attempt to win reelection had failed. She said she would resign as prime minister on Thursday, but remain leader of the Social Democrats in opposition. 

As prime minister-in-waiting, Kristersson now faces a fresh challenge to stitch together a functioning government from the disparate group of allies that back him to lead Sweden.

On one side, he has the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), seen by many as the election’s big winners after a surge to 21 percent voter support, and who are demanding tougher immigration laws and law enforcement policy. SD outperformed the Moderates, who secured 19 percent of the vote. 

SD, long ostracized by Sweden’s mainstream parties because of its neo-Nazi roots, is under pressure from its voters to turn a new alliance with the Moderates into real political influence for the first time. 

“Our success in the election implies a heavy responsibility to voters, which we will manage as well as we can and with respect,” SD leader Jimmie Åkesson said Wednesday.

Kristersson must now judge how far he can bow to SD’s demands without alienating more moderate elements within his own party and potential coalition partners the Christian Democrats.

The Liberal Party, whose support Kristersson will also need to form a government, has been particularly wary about a tie-up with SD.

Liberal lawmaker Romina Pourmokhtari, a former head of the party’s youth wing, said Wednesday she would vote down any government that included SD. 

Sleepless nights

With his thin majority in parliament, Kristersson’s grip on power won’t be able to withstand much rebellion in the ranks. If just two lawmakers were to switch sides, that could open the door for outgoing premier Andersson to return. 

“This is a very fragile government formation,” said Tomas Ramberg, a political commentator with national broadcaster Sweden’s Radio. “There is plenty here to give Kristersson sleepless nights.”

Political turmoil is something Sweden can ill afford with an economic slowdown looming and an application to join NATO in progress. Sweden also takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in January.

Talks have already begun between Kristersson and his potential allies, which will continue ahead of the Swedish parliament’s reopening on September 27.

Some early signs of tension within SD about the way ahead have already emerged. 

On Tuesday, reports in Swedish daily Aftonbladet suggested two key figures inside SD — Party Secretary Richard Jomshof and parliamentary group leader Henrik Vinge — couldn’t agree among themselves on whether to push for ministerial positions or not. 

The SD press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the speculation. 

On Wednesday, Kristersson declined to comment on which of his allied parties would be part of his new government. 

He said his goal was to gather support for political reforms to solve problems like high energy prices and rising levels of violent crime in Sweden. 

“There is nothing that is so bad in Sweden that it can’t be fixed with all that is so good,” he said. “Thank you for the confidence you have placed in us.”

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