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Sweden's Socialists Win Vote

Politics: Electorate backs the ruling party, which has pledged to preserve welfare state.

September 16, 2002|From Times Wire Services

STOCKHOLM — Sweden's ruling Social Democrats won national elections Sunday, beating the center-right opposition as voters backed Prime Minister Goran Persson's pledge to preserve the nation's cherished cradle-to-grave welfare system.

With nearly 100% of the ballots counted, it was clear that Swedes had voted to keep the industrialized world's highest taxes to pay for a big public sector, rather than opting for the tax cuts and privatization offered by the center-right opposition.

With his party getting 40% of the vote, Persson said he would again look to support from the Left and Green parties. The three parties had a combined 191 parliamentary seats, compared with 158 for the four center-right opposition parties, led by the Moderate Coalition Party, according to official results. However, Persson has ruled out a formal coalition with the Left and Greens, because both oppose Sweden's membership in the European Union.

The election's main surprise was the gain by the Liberal People's Party after leader Lars Leijonborg, 52, came out strong with a proposal requiring immigrants to pass a Swedish language test before gaining citizenship. The Liberals' support tripled, making them the third-largest parliamentary party, while the Moderates lost 27 seats in their worst showing since 1973.

For one pressing policy decision, a referendum on adopting the euro as currency, Persson can count on support from most of the center-right even if the Greens and Left oppose it.

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