Stockholm: Swedish politics seems set for the biggest change in nearly a decade in elections Sunday, with the Social Democrats likely to win narrowly while the far right vote could soar.
Stefan Loefven, a 57-year-old former union leader with a working-class background and no parliamentary or senior governmental experience, is favourite to become the next prime minister.
According to the latest poll by Demoskop, published on Friday, the Social Democrats will win 29.2 percent of the votes.
Such a result would be among the worst ever for his party, which has largely dominated Swedish politics in the post-war period and modelled its social and economic model, under the leadership of figures like Olof Palme.
Loefven, a politician with limited charisma but an ability to rally people with colliding ideas under the same banner, could face a complicated government scenario.
The polls predict a very fragmented parliament, where a centre-left alliance will most likely only attain a fragile minority.
"Social Democrats seem to have set a goal of 35 percent of the votes. And it looks like they won`t get it. This would be a problem for Stefan Loefven`s leadership," said Mikael Sundstroem, a political science professor at Lund University.
Even ahead of the general election, Loefven`s likely coalition with the Greens and the former communist Left Party is considered shaky.
The groups have stated differences on crucial issues such as energy, defence, private sector involvement in the welfare sector and the need to undo the liberal reforms of the current centre-right coalition.
On Friday evening, during the final debate on public broadcaster SVT, the leftist leaders tried to show a more compromising attitude in some of those thorny issues, sporting conveniently coordinated red ties.
"There must be more ingredients in an employment strategy", Loefven said during the debate.
"Investing in railways and housing. That`s what creates jobs here and now. That`s what strengthens Sweden."
The Social Democratic leader, whose party`s campaign slogan is "A better Sweden, for all", lacked the debating sharpness of his more experienced opponents in the televised exchanges.Another major concern for the left is the rise of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who entered parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of the vote and could double that tally on Sunday.
Over the past four years they have often voted in line with the governing coalition, but are less likely to do so with a leftist government.
According to Sundstroem, even if "no one wants to cooperate with them", this party sways voters who are fed up with the pro-immigration consensus.
The election will in all likelihood mark the end of 49-year-old Fredrik Reinfeldt`s reign, prime minister since 2006.
When he goes he will leave behind a legacy of competent management of the effects of the international financial crisis.
He will also be remembered for his ability to implement the business-friendly policies and budgetary discipline he had promised, without causing major social discontent.
His centre-right Moderate Party is expected to come second on Sunday, with between 20 and 25 percent of votes cast, according to the opinion polls.
After eight years in office, many now consider Reinfeldt`s government as tired. Young voters in particular have been unenthusiastic about his administration.
"The (centre-right) Alliance might have made a mistake by saying we must save," said Lars Magnusson, political science professor at Uppsala University.
"In a country that still has relatively high unemployment it does not make sense to many people."
Swedish general elections are held in a single round, with regional lists competing and a four-percent threshold to enter parliament.
All of the eight parties in the outgoing parliament are likely to reach that threshold: three left-wing groups (the Social Democrats and the Green and Left Parties), the centre-right coalition (the Moderate, Liberal, Centre and Christian Democratic Parties) and the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.
A newly created party, Feminist Initiative, could also enter parliament, even though the latest poll predicted a result below the four percent threshold.
Polling stations will close at 1800 GMT on Sunday.