What you need to know ahead of the Swedish election on Sunday

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Sweden is holding elections Sunday to elect lawmakers to the 349-seat Riksdag as well as local offices across the country of 10 million. Early voting began on August 24. Here are some key things to know about voting.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is struggling to keep her center-left Social Democrats at the helm of a left-wing coalition, but faces a strong challenge from the right.

Sweden is known as a cradle-to-grave welfare society, and Andersson would like to maintain the social protections that have long defined Sweden and reverse some of the market-oriented changes from a previous government. Her party believes some of the changes, such as government subsidies to private schools, create greater inequality.

The once-powerful Social Democrats have been in power since 2014. But as the party’s popularity has sunk, he has presided over a weak government that relies more on other parties to pass laws, creating political instability over the past eight years.

WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN?

There are two large blocks: one with four commas on the left and another with four on the right. Polls leading into the election say it’s impossible to predict.

“It’s basically a coin toss. It’s 50-50 between the two different sides,” Zeth Isaksson, a sociologist of electoral behavior at Stockholm University, said on Saturday.

According to Swedish law, the party that wins the most seats forms the next government. Polls show this is likely to be Anderson’s party, which will need to form a coalition with other parties.

But if the left as a whole looks bad, it may not be able to form a coalition. In that case, the baton would pass to the second largest party to try to form a government.

WHICH COMMA IS IN POINT NO. 2?

In the last election in 2018, moderates led by Ulf Kristersson, a center-right party, won the second largest number of seats. The conservative party promotes a market economy, lower taxes and a smaller role for government in a country with a generous welfare state supported by high taxes.

But like the Social Democrats and other mainstream parties across Europe, the moderates have also seen their popularity decline amid a populist challenge from further to the right.

WHO ARE POPULISTS?

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

The party won 13% of the vote in 2018, becoming the third largest force in parliament. Polls suggest he is likely to improve on his showing on Sunday.

Some Swedes compare the party to Trump-style populism and note that it was founded by far-right extremists decades ago. They do not trust it in its reported transformation into a more traditional conservative party.

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

The party has clearly tapped into the social mood, however, and other parties have come around to its positions as many Swedes feel they can no longer afford the costs of the country’s generous refugee policies and seek to crack down on crime.

Once a pariah, other conservative parties have become increasingly willing to take on the Sweden Democrats.

Andersson told reporters on Saturday that “the rise of the far right” was partly the fault of the right-wing opposition, which she said had “spent so much time and effort trying to convince people that the Sweden Democrats are not the party that they actually are ».

HOW SERIOUS IS CRIME IN SWEDEN?

Some immigrants experienced difficulties assimilating into Swedish society, leading to segregated neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Gang violence takes place primarily between criminal networks that traffic drugs or are involved in other illegal activities. But there have been recent cases of injuries to innocent bystanders. So far this year, 48 people have been killed by firearms in Sweden, three more than in all of 2021.

Fears caused by shootings and explosions in disadvantaged neighborhoods have made crime one of the most pressing issues for Swedish voters.

“Shooting and bombings have increased in recent years and (this violence) is now considered a major social problem,” 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 milestone long overdue for a country that in many ways exemplifies gender equality.

“I was really proud,” said Ulrika Hoonk, a 39-year-old who voted early in Stockholm on Friday, saying it had taken “a long time” for this to happen.

Polls show that Anderson’s party is particularly popular among women, with men tending to vote more conservative.

Although Anderson is the first prime minister, there are still many women represented in positions of power. Four party leaders are women and one party has a woman and a man sharing leadership. In parliament, the gender balance has long been split roughly 50-50.

Several female voters polled this week said ultimately having a woman in top leadership was very important to them and a factor they took into account when choosing which party to support.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed.

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