COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A right-wing bloc that includes a nationalist anti-immigration party won a narrow majority in Sweden’s parliament Wednesday. It was a major political shift in the Scandinavian country that had a decades-long history of welcoming refugees, but is grappling with a crime wave linked with immigration.
Center-left Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson conceded defeat with 99.9% of the vote from the weekend elections counted Wednesday. She said she would step down Thursday.
Populist Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson declared victory for the four-party bloc. He said his party would be “a constructive and driving force” in the work of rebuilding safety in Sweden. He said it was “time to put Sweden first.”
The bloc that includes the Sweden Democrats — the country’s second-largest party — won a thin majority in parliament. Though a few votes were outstanding they were not enough to sway the final outcome.
Prime Minister Andersson said that “the preliminary result is clear enough to draw a conclusion” that her center-left forces had lost power.
Andersson became Sweden’s first female prime minister last year and led the country in its historic bid to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Andersson is personally popular, anxiety in Sweden has grown over high crime rates in segregated districts that are home to large numbers of immigrants who have failed to integrate into Swedish society. Some blamed her Social Democrats, who have been in power for eight years.
Ulf Kristersson, the leader of Sweden’s third largest party, the Moderates, who’s considered to be the leading figure in the right-wing bloc and a possible prime minister, thanked voters for their trust. “Now we will get Sweden in order,” he wrote on Facebook.
“The Moderates and the other parties on my side have received the mandate for the change that we asked for. I am now starting the work of forming a new, effective government,” Kristersson said.
The Sweden Democrats were long shunned by Swedes because the party was founded in the 1980s by neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. In recent years it has moved into the mainstream by expelling extremists, and gained support with a tough stance on crime and immigration amid a rise in shootings and other gang violence.
Its transformation was led by 43-year-old Akesson, who in his speech Wednesday evening said it was time for a new chapter in Sweden.
“Now it will be enough with the failed Social Democratic policy that for eight years has continued to lead the country in the wrong direction,” Akesson said. “It is time to start rebuilding security, welfare and cohesion. It is time to put Sweden first. The Sweden Democrats will be a constructive and driving force in this work.”
“Now the work begins to make Sweden good again,” he said.
The tally gave the right-wing bloc 176 seats in the 349-parliament, the Riksdag, and Andersson’s center-left bloc with 173 seats. A majority in Sweden requires 175 seats.
“The four right-wing parties appear to have received just under 50% of the votes in the election, and in the Riksdag, they have gained one or two mandates. A thin majority, but it is a majority,” Andersson said.
“Tomorrow I will therefore request my dismissal as Prime Minister and the responsibility for the continued process will now pass to the Parliament Speaker and the Riksdag.”
Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland.