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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 02:44 GMT 03:44 UK
Swedish left wins re-election
Liberal supporters after the result was announced
The Liberals had most to celebrate on the right
Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson has been re-elected for a new four-year term, as voters backed his pledge to protect the country's welfare system.

With all but the postal ballots counted, Mr Persson's Social Democrats and his left-wing allies have won an absolute majority, ending a string of victories across Europe for centre-right parties.

Goeran Persson hugs Party of the Left leader Gudrun Schyman
Persson will still need the backing of smaller parties
"We broke the trend. Next week our German comrades can follow us," said Mr Persson, referring to Social Democrat German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's election battle next weekend.

Some consolation for Sweden's centre-right came from the Liberal Party, which nearly trebled its share of the vote by making immigration and the integration of foreigners a central campaign theme.

Its programme calls for immigrants to pass a Swedish-language test before gaining citizenship.

But the far-right Sweden Democrats failed to cross the 4% threshold needed to enter parliament.

'Not surprised'

Together with the ex-communist Party of the Left and the Greens, the Social Democrats won over 53% of the vote, and will gain 191 seats in the 349-seat parliament.

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Preliminary figures

For Mr Persson, it was a triumph for his own party - which scored its lowest ever result at the last election when it took 36.4%.

"This is an important moment for me as party leader - to win an election and go against a European trend, to win so clearly when in government," said Mr Persson said.

"I'm happy and moved, but not so surprised."

But, he added, the new term would be challenging:

"We know we have four hard years of taking responsibility for Sweden in front of us. This will demand a lot of humility and a lot of cooperation."

Immigrant issue

The Social Democrats' campaign was rather lacklustre, the BBC's Chris Morris reports, but many Swedes still support the high-tax, high-welfare model which has kept them in office for most of the last 50 years.

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Seats in parliament (preliminary figures)

However, it seemed that the immigrant issue had provoked more interest among voters, with the Liberal Party vote shooting up to about 13%.

"After four straight election losses it was about do or die. We won. Our message was change," said Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonborg.

But for the main centre-right Moderates, the result was a major disappointment, particularly after opinion polls had predicted a much closer race.

The Moderates had called for major tax cuts, which would in turn have required the pruning of the country's generous welfare provision.

With 14.7%, the party came close to losing its position as the standard bearer of the right, in its worst performance since 1973.

Moderates' leader Bo Lundgren put a brave face on defeat.

"The party is not throwing in the towel. We're needed in Sweden," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris reports from Stockholm
"They have cemented their reputation as Sweden's natural party of power"
See also:

16 Sep 02 | Media reports
16 Sep 02 | Europe
10 Aug 01 | Business
16 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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