(CNN) — A far-right party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement won a surge in support in Sweden’s general elections Sunday, partial results show, as anti-migrant sentiment rises in the once-open Scandanavian country.
With votes in more than half of around 6,000 districts now counted, the far-right Sweden Democrats have won 17.9% of the vote, up from 12.9% in the previous 2014 elections, Expressen TV reports.
Early results show a highly fractured political landscape, with the ruling Social Democrats winning just 28.2% of the vote, and the main opposition Moderates taking 19.3%.
Both leading parties are in coalitions, and STV had forecast a “dead heat” between the two alliances — which both exclude the far right — in a nail-biting race to the finish line that will determine who the nation’s next leader will be.
The results are likely to shift when the full count is complete.
An exit poll by state broadcaster STV earlier forecast the Sweden Democrats would get 19.2% of the vote and topple the main opposition Moderates from second place.
The Sweden Democrats want to freeze migration and have pushed for the country to leave the European Union.
Leaders in Brussels will be disappointed with the party’s surge ahead of the European Parliament’s elections in May next year, as they bid to discourage euroskepticism following Brexit, and as populist parties form alliances to shake up the EU establishment ahead of the vote.
“We paid the price for being in government. We suffered from the refugee crisis in 2015. That’s why the Sweden Democrats are as big as they seem to be,” senior Social Democrats official Anders Ygeman told CNN when asked to comment on the far right’s rise.
Migration issue fractures the vote
The early results show Sunday’s vote was one of the toughest challenges to Sweden’s social democracy, characterized by its high tax rates and substantial welfare system, aimed at reducing inequality through social inclusion.
The rise of the far right in Sweden mirrors similar trends in other European nations following the mass migration of refugees to Europe in 2015, at the height of the Syrian war.
Anti-migrant parties in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, Hungary and Italy have all made gains in recent years.
But Sweden was once particularly welcoming to refugees. The issue of migration became highly politicized after the country of 10.1 million people took in more than 160,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 alone.
“I am concerned because I think that integration is an important issue. But I’m not sure about the way of the Sweden Democrats,” voter Tuva Sundh told CNN after casting her vote. “I think it’s healthy to have debate. But I do think it’s become too heated in this election.”
Voter Anton Loin said of the far right’s rise: “I think that it shows that people are disappointed with how the country is run, and they are rooting for something, they want something different, but it’s not necessarily the best kind of different.”
Swedish governance has long required coalitions and alliances, but the issue of migration appears to have further fractured the vote, splitting it more evenly across the three largest parties.
The ruling Social Democrats and its allies have tried to appease anti-migrant sentiment in the country by urging more integration programs and resources for refugees in marginalized communities, and to help them access education.
The center-right Moderates had pledged to give more funds to the police, and pushed for Swedish migration policy to fall in line with laws in other EU countries, such as Denmark and Germany. This would mean that migrants won’t be able to stay unless they can prove that they can support themselves, enabling them to get a permanent residence permit.
They were also looking at ways of more quickly incorporating migrants into the workforce, such as promoting “simple jobs,” a reference to work that can be obtained with only an elementary education.
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