Swedish govt toppled in no-confidence vote

By: AFP      Published: 08:56 AM, 21 Jun, 2021
Swedish govt toppled in no-confidence vote
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (L) and the Center Party party leader Annie Loof address a digital press conference in Stockholm June 20, 2021. AFP

Sweden's government was toppled on Monday after Stefan Lofven became the country's first prime minister to lose a no-confidence vote, meaning he can now either resign or trigger a snap election. 

The motion of no confidence passed with a majority of 181 MPs in the 349-seat parliament. 

It was filed on Thursday by the far right Sweden Democrats (SD), after the Left Party, which has propped up the government, announced it was planning to seek support for such a motion itself in protest against a government project to ease rent controls.

The conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats quickly announced their support for the move, thereby securing the necessary majority.

Critics have described the constellation as an "unholy alliance"" of parties at opposite sides of the political spectrum.

After 11 unsuccessful no-confidence votes in modern Swedish political history, Lofven, who has previously distinguished himself by his ability to survive political crises, becomes the first head of government to be ousted in this way.

Lofven now has a week to either announce a snap election or resign, leaving it up to speaker of parliament Andreas Norlen to open negotiations with the parties to find a new prime minister.

But analysts note that Lofven could be chosen again.

Any snap election would be held in addition to the general election scheduled for September 2022, which would result in two legislative polls in just over a year.

"For a long time it looked like the minority government would make it until the end of the term, but the built-in divisions in the government's base have finally become too big," political commentator Mats Knutson told public broadcaster SVT over the weekend.

Political theatre

The political crisis was triggered by a project, which is still in its preliminary stages, to reform the country's rent controls and potentially open the door for landlords to freely set rents for newly constructed apartments.

On the left the proposal has been seen as being at odds with the Swedish social model and a threat to tenants.

Last-ditch efforts to appease the Left Party, which holds 27 seats, have been in vain.

An offer to invite stakeholders in the rental market for negotiations was dismissed as "not serious and political theatre aimed at stalling the process", by Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar.

"To put Sweden in a difficult political crisis is not what our country needs now," Lofven told a Sunday news conference, noting that the country was still in the throes of the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.

The minority government took power in 2019 after months of political turmoil following inconclusive elections in 2018.

To secure power it signed a deal with two centre-left parties, the Centre Party and the Liberals, and was propped up by the Left Party.

Departing, only to return? 

The deal included proposals for several liberal market reforms, including the controversial easing of rent controls.

Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University, believes Lofven's most likely move is "that he will resign".

"I think nobody wants an extra election... and the Social Democrats will, according to recent polls, lose quite a lot of votes in an election right now," Sannerstedt told AFP. 

But Sannerstedt noted that if Lofven resigns the political deadlock in parliament could allow him to return.

Jonas Hinnfors, a political scientist from the University of Gothenburg, echoed that hypothesis. "He is an extremely good negotiator," he said.

"Given that the seat distribution is the same, the most likely outcome is that Lofven will come back," Hinnfors said.

Formally, the government will stay on to handle routine tasks until a new government is formed.