Sweden's government topples as prime minister loses no-confidence vote

·4 min read
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven before a confidence vote in the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm - TT NEWS AGENCY
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven before a confidence vote in the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm - TT NEWS AGENCY

Sweden's prime minister, Stefan Lofven, on Monday morning became the first leader in Sweden's history to lose a no-confidence vote in parliament, leaving him just one week to decide whether to hold snap elections or resign.

Of the parliament's 349 members, 181 supported the vote, 109 opposed it and 51 abstained, with Lofven's red-green coalition voted down by an unusual combination of the former Communist Left Party, the far-Right Sweden Democrats, and the right-wing Moderate and Christian Democrat parties.

"The Left Party has linked up arms with the right-wing conservative bloc and used that to create an unholy alliance to fell the government," Annelie Karlsson, the Social Democrat's parliamentary leader, told parliament before the vote.

Mr Lofven, a former union dealmaker, has skillfully kept a weak Social Democrat-led coalition afloat since January 2019, enacting just enough of the liberal economic reforms necessary to keep his promises to the two minority centre-right parties, while at the same time keeping the unions and Left Party on side.

But he was wrong-footed last week by Nooshi Dadgostar, the Left party's new leader, who said she would back a no-confidence vote if Lofven did not scrap a planned liberalisation of rent controls for new-build apartments -- even if that meant voting alongside the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.

Nooshi Dadgostar, leader of the Left Party, arrives at the Swedish Parliament ahead of the vote - ANDERS WIKLUND/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Nooshi Dadgostar, leader of the Left Party, arrives at the Swedish Parliament ahead of the vote - ANDERS WIKLUND/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Before the vote, Ms Dadgostar reminded parliament that her party had made rent controls its red line from the moment it allowed the government take power.

"We have done something unusual in politics -- stood by our word," she said.

"It is not the Left Party that has abandoned the Social Democratic government, it is the Social Democratic government that has abandoned the Left Party and the Swedish people," she added, claiming her party had "compromised more than any other during this mandate period".

Sweden's parliament put coronavirus restrictions on hold for the vote, which had been called by the Sweden Democrats on Thursday, calling all members of parliament for the first time in months.

Mr Lofven has not said whether he plans to hold a snap election or to resign, saying he would only do "what is best for Sweden".

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, centre, pictured before the no-confidence vote - NILS PETTER NILSSON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, centre, pictured before the no-confidence vote - NILS PETTER NILSSON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

If he resigns, the speaker of parliament will then appoint a party leader to try and assemble a coalition which more than half of the parliament will not vote against.

Jimmie Akesson, leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, lavished rare praise on the Left Party, saying Ms Dadgostar was "worthy of respect" for deciding to "stand up for its voters and not allow itself to be deceived by Social Democrat power games".

Lofven has proven himself a canny player of Swedish bloc politics, staying in power since 2014 through a period when the rise of the populist Sweden Democrats has deprived the two left and right blocs of any chance of a majority.

Over the last two years, he has so far managed to enact just enough of the liberal economic reforms promised to the two minority centre-Right parties in return for their support, while at the same time keeping the unions and Left Party on-side.

Nicholas Aylott, Associate Professor at Stockholm's Sodertorn University, told the Telegraph that until last week most had expected Lofven to maintain his balancing act up until the 2022 election.

"Everyone expected the Left to make a fuss and then find a pretext to back down and still claim a sort of victory," Nicholas Aylott, Associate Professor at Stockholm's Sodertorn University, told the Telegraph in an email.

"Dadgostar has obviously decided that her party can't go on like this, being taken for granted by the Social Democrats."

On Sunday, the 36-year-old dismissed a last-minute compromise bid on rent controls from the Social Democrats and the centre-right Centre Party as nothing more than "frivolous political theatre to delay the process".