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Three main rivals face off in Sweden’s tight election race

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, the head of the opposition conservative Moderates Ulf Kristersson, and far-right leader Jimmie Akesson face off as the three main candidates in Sunday’s general election.

– ‘Bulldozer’ PM vying to keep the left in power –

Andersson came to power in November 2021 with the aim of breathing new life into the Social Democrats and ended up leading the charge for the nation’s historic NATO membership bid.

Sweden’s first woman prime minister despite the country’s reputation as one of the most feminist in the world, the 55-year-old replaced  Stefan Lofven after he retired from politics.

The former swimming champion served as finance minister for seven years, earning the nickname “The bulldozer” for her  blunt manner, which can rub some the wrong way in a country deeply attached to consensus.

Initially hesitant about joining NATO, Andersson made up her mind several weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, convincing her party to abandon its longstanding opposition after two centuries of Swedish military non-alignment.

“She has managed to maintain, and even strengthen, the party’s position and voter support,” political scientist Ulf Bjereld said.

Often clad in navy suits with her straight blonde hair tucked behind her ears, Andersson has campaigned with the slogan “Sweden can do better”.

She has vowed to defend Swedes’ cherished welfare state and pursued the party’s toughening stance on immigration.

“Integration has failed”, she said in April after immigrant youths clashed with police.

On the international scene, her thorniest task has been negotiating with Turkey.

Ankara has threatened to block Sweden’s NATO application, accusing Stockholm of harbouring Kurdish “terrorists”.

A first obstacle was lifted in June, but Turkey has yet to ratify Sweden’s membership in the Atlantic alliance.

If she loses the election, she will become Sweden’s shortest-serving prime minister since 1936.

– The conservative welcoming the far-right –

Her main challenger for the prime ministership, conservative Moderates Party chief Ulf Kristersson hopes to  end the Social Democrats’ eight years in power.

The 58-year-old is gambling that his historic welcoming of the once-pariah far-right Sweden Democrats into the right-wing fold will pay off and supply the majority he needs in parliament.

A former gymnast with horn-rimmed glasses and clean-cut looks, Kristersson is making his second attempt to become prime minister.

After the 2018 election, he was given a shot at forming a government but failed to secure a majority. The Moderates’ and their traditional centre-right allies refused to collaborate with the Sweden Democrats, who were then considered political “pariahs”.

By December 2019, Kristersson agreed to hold exploratory talks with the far-right. Their cooperation has deepened since then, and the Christian Democrats and, albeit to a lesser extent, the Liberals have followed suit. 

His…

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