Sweden’s right and left neck-and-neck in hotly contested election

People stand in voting booths during a general election in Stockholm Sweden

People stand in voting booths during a general election in Stockholm Sweden

Swedish centre-right opposition leader Ulf Kristersson called on Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to step down on Sunday after preliminary election results showed his opposition Alliance coalition in a virtual dead heat with its centre-left rivals.

The potential for an immigration backlash to result in a big boost for the far-right Sweden Democrats inspired fear among many Swedes before the election.

The Moderate party is determined to oust Löfven, with some openly entertaining the once-unimaginable idea of bringing the Sweden Democrats in from the political cold if that would help.

Meanwhile, refugee aid associations said they have noted "anxiety" among asylum seekers over the far-right's surge.

Sounding sombre and firm, Lofven told his supporters the election presented "a situation that all responsible parties must deal with", adding that "a party with roots in Nazism" would "never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred".

Sweden, recognized for its open-door immigration policy, has always been a destination for refugees. We must gather all good forces. "We used to be a very calm nation", she said.

The party, described by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven as "racist", held 12.9% of the ballot in the previous election. His party finished first but with its worst showing ever.

In Sweden, the speaker of parliament typically consults all party leaders after an election before tasking the one most likely to succeed at forming a government.

In an interview with NPR's Michel Martin, reporter Maddy Savage says that among the eight parties gunning for seats in parliament, there's historically "a sense of left or a sense of right bloc that's able to form a coalition".

A ballot envelope is put in ballot box at a polling station in Tomelilla Sweden

Although both major parties have ruled out formally ruling with the Sweden Democrats in a coalition, the center-right Moderates have said they would not reject support in areas where the parties' positions coincide.

Sweden took in more asylum seekers per capita than any other country in Europe in 2015, magnifying worries about a welfare system that many voters already believe is in crisis.

Lofven eventually said Sweden no longer could cope with the influx and immigration laws were tightened.

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson has labelled the vote a choice between immigration and welfare.

He said the populist anti-immigration party had: "Saluted Hitler and fanned the flames of racism". Members known for making pro-Third Reich statements were pushed out. The flower replaced a flamethrower as the party looked to soften its image.

"Now we will gain influence in Swedish politics for real", Sweden Democrat Jimmie Akesson told a cheering crowd of supporters as the results came in.

On a good night for the smaller parties, the ex-communist Left almost doubled its score to 9.8% and the centre-right Centre and Christian Democrat parties both advanced.

An anti-immigration party has won nearly 20% of votes in the Swedish election, an early exit poll suggests.

"When the same party time and again increases, and the other parties stand still, then you have to listen to that part of the population that is voting for this party".

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