- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sweden re-elected its center-right government on Sunday and handed a far-right, anti-immigrant party its first foothold in parliament.

Preliminary results in the historic election showed that the Alliance for Sweden — a coalition of four center-right parties led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party — won more than 49 percent of the vote, capturing 172 seats in Sweden’s Riksdag.

The opposition Red-Green Alliance, the newly formed left-wing coalition led by the Social Democrats, took less than 44 percent, garnering 157 seats.

The Reinfeldt-led Alliance, however, failed to secure an outright parliamentary majority owing to the strong showing of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, whose nearly 6 percent total cleared the electoral threshold (4 percent) needed to enter parliament.

Mr. Reinfeldt has said he would refuse to enter into an arrangement with the Sweden Democrats, who are estimated to have won 20 seats, but observers said he likely would have little trouble leading a minority government with support from elements of the Green Party.

“This is a historic event,” said Per Gudmundson, a commentator from the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. “With two consecutive victories by the right, you could most certainly say that the Social Democratic era of Sweden is over.”

Still the country’s largest single party, the Social Democrats have led Sweden for 65 of the past 78 years.

Mr. Gudmundson noted that the Social Democrats scored their worst election result Sunday, with less than 31 percent of the vote — 4-plus percentage points lower than their previous worst showing in 2006.

“They are no longer a 45 percent party; they’re now a 30 percent party, and that reality forced them into this alliance with the Green and Left parties, which was an experiment the voters didn’t like,” he said. “The leader of the Social Democrats, Mona Sahlin, was also considered by the public to be a weak leader, whereas the leaders from the Alliance were considered strong leaders who managed the financial crisis very well.”

Jenny Madestam, a political science professor at Stockholm University, said the campaign’s focus on taxes, which worked in favor of the tax-cutting Mr. Reinfeldt and came at the expense of the Social Democrats’ traditional priorities of unemployment and the welfare state, shows “the agenda-setting power has switched hands from the Social Democrats to the Moderate Party.”

The Moderate Party won 30 percent of Sunday’s vote.

Mr. Reinfeldt’s re-election and the rise of the Sweden Democrats both appear to be part of a European trend — a political shift to the right fueled by anxieties over budget crises and growing Muslim-immigrant populations.

Sweden’s result follows June’s Dutch elections, which gave the austerity-minded Liberal Party the most parliamentary seats and saw Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Party for Freedom eclipse the governing center-right Christian Democrats as the Netherlands’ third-largest party.

A month earlier, British voters gave their nod to the Tories after 13 years of Labor governments.

With the British result, right-leaning parties now reign supreme in Europe’s four most populous countries — which include Germany, France and Italy — as well as in smaller, traditionally socialist-friendly countries such as Denmark and Switzerland.