Weekend elections in Sweden saw the highest-ever support for the far-right Sweden Democrats, allowing that populist, anti-immigration party to win national representation in parliament for the first time.
The center-right coalition of Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt led the September 19 ballot by winning 173 of the 349 parliamentary seats.
But Reinfeldt's four-party "Alliance" coalition fell just short of the absolute parliamentary majority it needs for outright control of the legislature.
Meanwhile, led by Jimmie Akesson, the far-right Sweden Democrats reportedly crossed the four percent barrier needed to win national representation. With expectations of taking 20 seats in parliament, the Sweden Democrats are in a position to form a new government with Reinfeldt's center-right.
Akesson says his far-right party will use the opportunity to influence political debate in Sweden.
"We are prepared to take responsibility and I assume that the other parties are also prepared to take responsibility for the country, because that is what it is about now," Akesson says. "I hope that we have a government in a few weeks and that we have a strong position in parliament."
However, Prime Minister Reinfeldt said late on election night that he does not plan to form a governing coalition with Akesson and the far-right.
"The Swedish people didn't give us the result we wished for," Reinfeldt said. "It's still uncertain. The final result won't be known tonight. But I intend to fulfill what I and my alliance partners have said during the campaign: that the bloc which is the largest on election night will rule Sweden. According to the Swedish people, it's still the Alliance."
'Go' For The Greens?
The center-left Social Democrats, who contested the election as part of an opposition coalition with the Green Party, have conceded defeat. The Social Democrats had governed Sweden for 65 of the past 78 years, and are credited with setting up the country's generous welfare state.
Reinfeldt suggests that his center-right coalition is more likely to reach a deal with Green Party lawmakers than the far-right Sweden Democrats.
"We have indicated throughout that it was our intention that should this situation arise, we would turn to the Green Party," Reinfeldt said.
Indeed, Reinfeldt repeatedly told voters during the campaign that if they "like Sweden" they should not vote for an anti-immigration party like Akesson's Sweden Democrats.
Akesson's calls for a 90 percent reduction in immigration, and his description of Muslim population growth as the greatest foreign threat to Sweden since World War II, appear to have won more support than elections in 2006 when the Sweden Democrats won just 2.9 percent of the vote.
Elsewhere in Europe, the issues of immigration and the growth of Islam also have been heating up political debates.
France's decision last week to expel thousands of Roma caused a backlash within the European Union -- leading to some of the angriest exchanges between EU leaders in years.
In June, the Dutch Party For Freedom led by the anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders, increased its representation in the Dutch parliament from nine to 24 seats. Wilders has become an inflammatory critic of Islam by advocating a ban on the Holy Koran, taxing women who wear headscarves, banning the construction of new mosques, and ending all immigration to the Netherlands from Muslim countries.
In Denmark and Norway, anti-immigration parties also have been growing in popularity in recent years as the number of Muslims in those countries has increased -- mostly as a result of immigration from Muslim countries.
The situation for the diverse Islamic communities in Denmark and Norway has not been helped by anger in the Muslim world against Denmark and Norway because of the publication of editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
Ironically, the tightening of immigration policies in those two Scandinavian countries may have caused more immigrants to go to neighboring Sweden -- putting more pressure on Sweden's generous welfare system and raising the prominence of anti-immigration politicians in a country long regarded as a bastion of liberalism and tolerance.
based on agency reports