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Governing Party Faces First Electoral Challenge In Half Century

September 16, 1988

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ The Social Democrats, who have dominated Sweden’s government for 56 years, on Sunday face their first election challenge since Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot in 1986.

The governing party was expected to win the most votes, but it would take only a slight shift in voting patterns to break their majority hold on the 349-seat Riksdag, or parliament.

Polls showed the Social Democrats, who control 159 seats in the unicameral legislature, have lost crucial support to the environmentalist Greens, who now hold no seats in parliament.

The small, activist party has been spurred by recent polls showing up to 10 percent of voter support. It could tilt the balance of power by winning the minimum 4 percent of the national vote a party must have to sit in parliament.

Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, 53, whose Social Democrats rely on the Communist Party to make up a majority, said he would rather call another election to stay in office than be forced to rely on the Greens.

The pre-election surveys suggested the Communists, with 19 seats, were in danger of being shut out for the first time since their founding in 1917.

Also competing for the attention of Swedish voters were about 100 minor parties. They ranged from the Socialist Workers’ Party, which opposes foreign immigration to Sweden, to the Donald Duck Party. None were expected to surmount the 4 percent barrier.

With the exception of 1976-1982, when the country was governed by a center- right coalition, the Social Democrats have been at the helm of the Swedish welfare state since 1932.

Palme, the party’s undisputed leader, was shot to death on Feb. 28, 1986, while walking out of a downtown movie theater. Police say they still have no firm clues to the killer’s identity. Independent reports blamed official bungling for failure to find the gunman.

Since Palme’s death, his party has weathered heavy criticism on many issues.

Two justice ministers have resigned under pressure in the past 11 months. One quit in connection with an unofficial investigation into Palme’s killing, the other over the affair of a convicted spy who escaped while on furlough from jail.

The election campaign has been marked by opposition complaints about Sweden’s taxes, the world’s highest, and the breakdown of health care, child care and other welfare benefits.

The three opposition parties have pledged to form a coalition if they win a majority. They are the Conservatives, who hold 76 seats, the Liberals, with 51 seats, and the Center Party, with 44 seats.

The probable prime minister of a center-right government would be Bengt Westerberg, 45, who led the Liberal party to a remarkable recovery since taking over in 1983. Westerberg wants to abolish state monopolies in such areas as health and child care centers and give Swedes private alternatives.

Among Sweden’s 8.4 million people, about 6.3 million are registered to vote.

The 6,251 polling stations in the 28 constituencies were scheduled to open at 8 a.m. Sunday and close at 8 p.m., with the first official results expected around 10 p.m. Turnout was projected at around 90 percent.

The elections also include voting for 284 municipal and 24 county councils and on local issues.

The 15,000 voters in the municipal district of Sjobo in southern Sweden are holding a referendum on whether to accept a few dozen refugees the government wants to relocate there. The issue has attracted nationwide attention.

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