STOCKHOLM - Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, the head of the opposition conservative Moderates Ulf Kristersson, and far-right leader Jimmie Akesson face off as the three main candidates in Sunday’s general election.

Andersson came to power in November 2021 with the aim of breathing new life into the Social Democrats and ended up leading the charge for the nation’s historic NATO membership bid.

Sweden’s first woman prime minister despite the country’s reputation as one of the most feminist in the world, the 55-year-old replaced  Stefan Lofven after he retired from politics. The former swimming champion served as finance minister for seven years, earning the nickname “The bulldozer” for her  blunt manner, which can rub some the wrong way in a country deeply attached to consensus.

Initially hesitant about joining NATO, Andersson made up her mind several weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, convincing her party to abandon its longstanding opposition after two centuries of Swedish military non-alignment.

“She has managed to maintain, and even strengthen, the party’s position and voter support,” political scientist Ulf Bjereld said.

Often clad in navy suits with her straight blonde hair tucked behind her ears, Andersson has campaigned with the slogan “Sweden can do better”.

She has vowed to defend Swedes’ cherished welfare state and pursued the party’s toughening stance on immigration. “Integration has failed”, she said in April after immigrant youths clashed with police. On the international scene, her thorniest task has been negotiating with Turkey.

Ankara has threatened to block Sweden’s NATO application, accusing Stockholm of harbouring Kurdish “terrorists”.