Sweden’s main opposition party has complained to international election observers of dirty tricks by the ruling Social Democrat party.

Several local candidates of the centre-left Social Democrats resigned or were suspended by the party after spreading lies about the centre-right Moderates and nationalist Sweden Democrats ahead of elections on September 9.

Social media post by candidates in at least five Swedish cities included the false assertions that the two rightwing parties were accusing Muslim parents of crimes in order to take their children away, and that they wanted to remove citizenship from anybody who arrived in the country after 1970.

“We have been preparing . . . [for] foreign powers trying to influence the Swedish election process. We would never have dreamt that the threat would have come from within the country and our main opponents,” Anders Edholm, deputy secretary-general of the Moderates, told the Financial Times.

Swedish authorities have warned the public in recent days of a big rise in the number of automated Twitter accounts trying to influence the election, in particular by pushing for the populist anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. Stefan Lofven, the Social Democrat prime minister, had earlier warned of “completely unacceptable” attempts by Russia to interfere.

The Moderates, who have slipped dramatically in the polls and are now behind not just the Social Democrats but also the Sweden Democrats, underscored that they were not accusing the centre-left party’s central organisation but merely local candidates.

Anders Ygeman, head of the Social Democrats in parliament, told the Financial Times that the actions of what it described as “low-level candidates” as completely unacceptable. But he also said the Moderates had blown the matter out of proportion.

“Comparing false accusations from five individual party members, none of them holding any form of senior position even at a local party level, to the form of organised electoral manipulation . . . is utterly ridiculous,” Mr Ygeman said.

The posts included one from a candidate in Orebro written in Somalian stating that after the centre-right parties came to power they would halt immigration and close all mosques in an effort to end the recruitment of terrorists. Another in Arabic posted by a candidate in Stenungsund said that the parties wanted to stop Islamic burials and take away all economic help from new immigrants.

Mr Edholm said he had brought up the misinformation attempts with election observers from the intergovernmental Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. “We do not know how long this has been going on for. We are deeply concerned about the cases, also because we cannot measure the damage done,” he added.

Mr Ygeman said the decision to take the matter to the OSCE was “an act of desperation stemming from catastrophic poll ratings little more than a week before the elections”.

Immigration and crime have become two of the biggest topics in the elections after Sweden took in more asylum seekers relative to its population than almost any other European country.

According to some polls, the Sweden Democrats could become the largest party in Sweden after next weekend’s vote. The Social Democrats have sought to regain the initiative by offering parents of school-age children an extra week of paid holiday.

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