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Swedish parliament elects conservative prime minister

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s parliament yesterday elected Ulf Kristersson — the conservative leader of the Moderate Party — as prime minister to lead a coalition backed by a once-radical far-right party.

Kristersson, 59, was elected by 176 votes to 173. His government should be presented today. His three-party coalition lacks a majority, but in Sweden prime ministers can govern as long as there is no parliamentary majority against them.

After a month of talks with Sweden’s anti-immigration Democrats, Kristersson presented a deal that gave them an unprecedented position of influence in Swedish politics.

They won more than 20% of the vote in the September 11 elections.

Kristersson’s centre-right coalition government includes his party and the Liberals and Christian Democrats, but he said he would remain in “close cooperation” with the Swedish Democrats. It depends on the support of Sweden’s Democrats to secure a majority in Parliament, putting the party in a position to influence government policy from the fringes, even without a Cabinet seat. The Swedish Democrats were founded in the 1980s by far-right extremists. They toned down their rhetoric and expelled overtly racist members under Jimmie Akesson, who took over as party leader in 2005.

Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party, smiles after being elected Sweden’s new Prime Minister in the Parliament in Stockholm. PHOTO: AP

Akesson, who does not see his party as far-right, said he would have preferred cabinet seats for the Swedish Democrats, but backed the deal which would give his party influence over government policy, including in immigration and criminal justice.

Since the elections, the populist party has won the chairmanship of four parliamentary committees and, with it, the ability to wield more influence in mainstream Swedish politics.

Kristersson will replace Magdalena Andersson, who leads Sweden’s largest party, the Social Democrats, who are now in opposition. He backs Sweden’s historic bid to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

The centre-left opposition has strongly criticized the new coalition government, with Lena Hallgren of the Social Democrats calling it a “strange construct”.

Many said it represented a paradigm shift in Sweden and would damage its image around the world as an egalitarian and tolerant nation. Nooshi Dadgostar, the leader of the former Communist Left Party, said her parents who had fled Iran could never have imagined that Sweden would go down an authoritarian path. “What is happening in Sweden right now is scary,” she told parliament.