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Sweden faces weeks of uncertainty after close election

Sweden faces weeks of uncertainty after close election

Nevertheless, should the Sweden Democrats get a fifth of the vote it would shake the country's image as a torchbearer for progressive values and trump the 12.6 percent for the far-right Alternative for Germany, which swept into the Bundestag a year ago.

In line with expectations, the far-right Sweden Democrat party (Sverigedemokraterna: SD) made the biggest gains, jumping from 12.9% of the vote in the 2014 election to 17.6%.

The ruling Social Democrats remained the biggest party with 40.6 percent of votes, marginally ahead of the centre-right Alliance, which garnered 40.3 percent in the polls, results showed after most votes were counted on Monday.

But centre-left and centre-right parties face an uphill battle in trying to form a viable coalition government.

"In some sense we're happy the Sweden Democrats didn't grow more than they did", Liberal Party lawmaker Allan Widman told Reuters.

Mr Akesson challenged Ulf Kristersson, the centre-right Alliance's candidate for the premiership, to choose between seeking support from the Sweden Democrats and the incumbent Social Democrat prime minister, Stefan Löfven.

In Sweden, the influx of 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015 - the most in Europe in relation to the country's population of 10 million - has polarised voters and fractured the political consensus.

The run-up to this election was marked by themes of immigration, integration and welfare, with SD presenting the vote as a direct choice between immigration and welfare spending. But people increasingly are expressing such ideas more freely - adding to the support for the party.

"I think we are going to top 20 percent and maybe a bit more than that, so I am still hopeful it can go up even more than we see now", Sweden Democrat party secretary Richard Jomshof said on the sidelines of an election rally in central Stockholm. That was shared in Brussels. "Nationalist populism is still advancing, and it will complicate forming a government". But the process could take weeks and possibly fail.

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Akesson was jubilant as he addressed supporters a day later, declaring the estimated 14 parliament seats the Social Democrats picked up a victory other parties could not ignore in coalition negotiations.

"Sweden needs stable economic policies and major long-term political reforms that will need broad parliamentary support to achieve".

Both sides laid claim to being best placed to form a government, although votes from Swedes living overseas are not due to be declared until Wednesday and these could still sway the final outcome slightly.

Center-left and center-right parties have ruled together only a handful of times since the mid-1930s.

Lofven, on his part, has invited the Center Party and the Liberals to form a government with him, but the three parties do not have enough mandates to achieve a majority.

The Moderates - the biggest party in the Alliance - are not interested in cooperating with the Social Democrats and any such deal would also raise questions about democratic accountability.

In the far north of the country, many voters turned to the independent Health Care Party instead.

A new election will be called if parliament doesn't agree on a prime minister after four attempts.