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Sweden Election Results See Surge In Support For Anti-Immigrant Party


We go to Sweden now, where voting stations have closed in what's been described as the most unpredictable and competitive election there in decades. The specific contest is for seats in the 349-seat national legislature. But the election is also about the country's response to Europe's refugee crisis. Sweden took in about 160,000 refugees in 2015. It's not a large number, but it was the most per capita in Europe. Now the nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, a group with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, is poised to win at least enough seats to influence the direction of the new government. Journalist Maddy Savage is in Stockholm, and she's with us now via Skype with an update on today's vote.

Maddy, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So polls have now closed. What are you hearing so far about the outcome?

SAVAGE: Well, I'm watching the results come in at an election party at a craft beer bar showing the results coming in on a huge projector screen here in Stockholm. It's been a very tense few hours - something of a party atmosphere here, lots of balloons hung up everywhere. But Swedish politics is complicated, and the key question here is, who exactly is celebrating?

Preliminary results suggest that the party that everyone's been talking about, the Sweden Democrats, this nationalist, anti-immigration party - they won around 18 percent, putting them in third place. So not doing quite as well as many polls predicted them to do, but still a big jump since the last election in 2014 when they got around 13 percent of the vote. And we've been watching pictures of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, incredibly jubilant at their rally.

In terms of who's going to be in government based on these results, though, it's still a bit confusing. There's eight parties in Sweden. Usually, there's either a center-left or a center-right bloc that's able to form a coalition. But they're neck and neck - both run around 40 percent right now.

MARTIN: So tell me more about the Sweden Democrats. What's their core message?

SAVAGE: The key message is to put major limits on immigration to Sweden, which once had a global reputation for openness and tolerance. They want to put a temporary stop to anyone seeking asylum here. They want to make it harder for families to reunite, easier to deport people who haven't been granted asylum and much stricter rules on immigrants learning Swedish. Some very strong comments from their leader, Jimmie Akesson, in the past couple of days - he said, some immigrants are finding it hard to a job because they're not Swedes, and they don't fit into Sweden. But this party has, as we've seen, managed to draw a lot of voters from largely lower income, rural areas but also increasingly from other sections of the population, too.

MARTIN: So to this point - we only have about a minute left - it's my understanding that the Sweden Democrats had been considered politically toxic, but if they win enough seats, it seems that they would influence the governing coalition somehow. What is that likely to look like from what you see now?

SAVAGE: The key question now is whether the center-right bloc, given that everything's so tight, will go back on their word in terms of saying they wouldn't form a formal coalition with them. Could they end up doing that? Could there be some kind of informal coalition where they rely on the support from the Sweden Democrats? That's something that we're waiting to find out. Another option is that some of the smaller parties could move to the left and create a new kind of coalition constellation. So we still don't know. Exciting times in Swedish politics, but the key takeaway - a very fragmented electorate and more people turning to the nationalist party here than ever before.

MARTIN: That is journalist Maddy Savage in Stockholm.

Maddy, thank you.

SAVAGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.