The Sweden Democrats, who want the country to leave the European Union and put a freeze on immigration, have about 17 per cent, up from the 13 per cent they scored in the 2014 vote, opinion polls suggest.
The Sweden Democrats are bidding to become the biggest populist party in the Nordic region, topping the Danish People's Party, which gained 21 per cent in 2015, and trump the 12.6 pe rcent for the far-right Alternative for Germany, which swept into the Bundestag past year.
Neither Lofven's "red-green" bloc nor Kristersson's opposition centre-right four-party Alliance (Moderates, Centre, Liberals and Christian Democrats) were expected to win a majority in parliament.
Public broadcaster SVT said immediately after polls closed that its exit poll indicated the ruling Social Democrats would remain Sweden's largest party, but making its worst-ever showing with 26.2 per cent of the vote.
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Sweden's two biggest traditional parties - the governing Social Democrats and the conservative Moderates - are together predicted to secure about 40 percent of the votes, down by 10 percentage points from the last elections.
Around 18.5 per cent of Sweden's population of 10 million was born overseas, according to Statistics Sweden.
"This election is a referendum about our welfare", Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.
The Social Democrats have led a minority government with the Greens since 2014, with the informal support of the ex-communist Left Party to pass legislation.
The Swedish Social Democrats continued its over 100-year tradition of finishing first in every election but saw its vote drop to an estimated 28.4 per cent.
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"The election is between potential democracy and potential facism", he told AFP. "I'm afraid we're becoming a society that is more hostile to foreigners".
The final results of the Sunday vote will be released before midnight (22:00 GMT), but the composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.
"This party has increased and made the biggest gains".
Lengthy negotiations will be needed to build a majority, or at least a minority that won't be toppled by the opposite side. But with some kind of cooperation between parties in the centre-left and centre-right blocs an equally unlikely alternative to the current political deadlock, analysts believe that Akesson may yet end up with some influence on policy. "Everything is about us", Akesson said. Sweden took in more asylum seekers per capita than any other country in Europe in 2015, magnifying worries about a welfare system that many voters already believe is in crisis.
Another, smaller poll by TV4 had the Sweden Democrats taking 16.3 percent.
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