Swedish leader ekes out narrow win over conservative threat

Incumbent Olof Palme narrowly won Sunday's national elections in what the Swedish prime minister called ``a victory for the Swedish [welfare state] model.'' Mr. Palme's coalition government lost 8 seats in the 349-member Parliament, but retains a seven seat majority.

Palme faced an aggressive conservative challenge, and it was thought that Sweden's nonsocialist parties might unseat the socialists. The two groups were running neck and neck in public opinion polls right up to the election.

The biggest gains were scored by the opposition People's Party under its new leader, Bengt Westerberg. The party campaigned on a platform of ``social responsibility without socialism.''

Mr. Westerberg's conservative party called for greater freedom of individual choice in public services, such as health, dental, and child care.

The People's Party also attacked proposals by some Social Democrats to regulate private sales of tenant-owned apartments -- an increasingly popular form of housing in larger Swedish cities. And the party had demanded abolition of Sweden's wage-earner funds, calling them a form of socialization of private business.

Some political observers thought that the People's Party's policies would appeal to voters who normally support the Social Democrats, but who are concerned with some of the government's present policies.

Even within the Social Democratic party itself, opinions range widely. There are those who, privately, would agree with many of Westerberg's ideas, as well as those who favor stronger government action to guarantee economic equality and to regulate more aspects of Swedish life.

Palme may have already moved to preempt his supporters from moving to the right for the 1988 general elections. He promised ``a more relaxed and cooperative climate'' for Swedish politics now that the conservative challenge had been thwarted.

The remark was seen by many as an invitation to Westerberg to cooperate with the Social Democrats on issues where their views are similar.

Such cooperation would make Palme less dependent on his partners in Parliament -- the communists. He would naturally like to do this. Without the communists, his party holds fewer seats than the three nonsocialist parties.

Ulf Adelsohn's Moderate Coalition Party, the largest nonsocialist faction, lost 10 seats in Parliament. Had the conservatives put up a better showing, Mr. Adelsohn would have become prime minister.

The stiffest losses in the election were taken by former prime minister Thorbjorn Falldin's antinuclear power Center Party. The party drew a quarter of a million fewer votes than in 1982.

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