Sweden's ruling centre-left party is leading in preliminary results but achieved its worst ever share of the ballot in a general election, as nearly a fifth of voters backed the far-right Sweden Democrats.
As the count neared completion on Monday morning, all indications are that it will be a hung parliament with the ruling Social Democrats leading on 28.4 per cent of the vote.
Put together with their left-leaning coalition partners, the left looks to have gained 40.6 per cent of the vote, compared to 40.3 per cent for the opposition centre-right Alliance - a deadlock that is likely to lead to weeks of wrangling before a majority government can be agreed.
Of the remaining votes, some 17.6 per cent went to the Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in the white supremacist fringe that has previously been described as neo-Nazi. Their result is either better or worse than predicted, depending on the poll, but regardless means they have secured far greater support than in the previous election four years ago when they won 12.9 per cent.
Speaking at a party rally Mr Lovfen said he would continue to “work on calmly” as prime minister until a new government formed.
Sounding sombre and firm, Mr Lofven told his supporters the election presented "a situation that all responsible parties must deal with," adding that "a party with roots in Nazism" would "never ever offer anything responsible, but hatred."
"We have a moral responsibility. We must gather all good forces. We won't mourn, we will organise ourselves," he said.
Acrimony between the two main political blocs has defined Swedish politics for decades, and the rise of the Sweden Democrats – considered pariahs in parliament – has complicated the political landscape. Both blocs have said they will not accept the party in their groupings.
Jan Bjorklund, the leader of the centrist Liberal Party, said he wanted a centre-right government but ruled out working with the Sweden Democrats.
In 2015, the Swedish government allowed 163,000 migrants into the country with a population of 10 million.
The number was far lower than the asylum-seekers Germany accepted that year, but the highest per capita of any European nation.
Before the election, the rising prospects for the Sweden Democrats had many Swedes worried about an erosion of the humanitarian values that have long been a foundation of their country’s identity.
The Sweden Democrats have attempted to soften their white supremacist image while breaking down taboos on what Swedes could say openly about immigration and integration without being shunned as racists. The party's logo was changed from a flame-thrower to a flower, and some of the most extreme elements were forced out.
During a heated debate among party leaders on Friday, the Sweden Democrats' Jimmie Akesson blamed migrants for the difficulties they often face in finding employment and for not adjusting to Swedish life.
SVT afterwards called his remarks degrading and against the democratic mandate of public broadcasting.
Mr Akesson responded that state television should not take sides, and later announced that he would not take part in any of SVT’s election programmes on Sunday.
At a rally on Saturday, he strongly criticised Mr Lofven’s government for “prioritising” the cause of immigrants over the needs of citizens.
Mr Akesson was jubilant as he addressed supporters after the first exit polls emerged on Sunday night, declaring the estimated 14 parliament seats the Social Democrats picked up a victory other parties could not ignore in coalition negotiations.
"This party has increased and made the biggest gains. Everything is about us," Mr Akesson said. "I am ready to talk with others."
With about 15 per cent of the count remaining, turnout was reported at 84.4 per cent, up from 83 per cent in 2014.
Additional reporting by agencies
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