STOCKHOLM – Sweden’s government is under threat of being toppled on Monday (June 21) as it faces a no confidence vote that could trigger snap polls, only a year ahead of the 2022 general election.
Heading into the vote on Monday, three scenarios are on the table: Prime Minister Stefan Lofven could simply resign, a snap election could be triggered before next year’s general election or some form of political compromise could be reached – saving the Social Democrat and Green Party coalition minority government at the last minute.
Despite Covid-19 restrictions still being in force all 349 Members of Parliament have been called in for the 10am (4pm Singapore time) vote on the no confidence motion, filed on Thursday by the far right Sweden Democrats (SD).
SD filed the motion 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, denouncing the move as an attack on the Swedish social model.
The conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats have also announced their support for the move.
If defeated, Mr Lofven would go down as the first Swedish head of government to be defeated in a vote of no confidence.
“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.
If voted out, Mr Lofven would have 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, which analysts note could end up being Mr Lofven again.
The political crisis was triggered by a project, which is still in its preliminary stages, to reform the country’s rent controls and potentially opening the door for landlords to freely set rents for newly constructed apartments.
Among the left the proposal has been seen as being at odds with the Swedish social model and a threat to tenants.
To overthrow the government, a strict absolute majority of 175 votes out of the 349 parliamentary seats is needed. Together, the four parties have 181 seats.
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.
Departing, only to return?
As emotions have run hot, so have temperatures in Sweden which has experienced an unusual June heat wave during the last few days.
“To put Sweden in a difficult political crisis is not what our country needs now,” Mr Lofven told a Sunday news conference, noting that the country was still in the throes of the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.
For many analysts the outcome of Monday’s vote is all but certain: “That prime minister Stefan Lofven gets voted out of office, losing the vote of no confidence,” Professor Jan Teorell, a political science expert at Stockholm University, told AFP.
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.
The deal included proposals for several liberal market reforms, including the controversial easing of rent controls, many irking the Left Party.
Although over the years, the government has become somewhat accustomed to ultimatums from the Left, notably over the relaxing of employment rights.
But the Left Party has so far refrained from striking, but Ms Dadgostar, who took over in October, has toughened up the party’s stance.
Dr Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University, believes Mr 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,” Dr Sannerstedt told AFP.
Dr Sannerstedt noted that if Mr Lofven resigns the political deadlock in Parliament could allow him to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes again.
A hypothesis echoed by Dr Jonas Hinnfors, a political scientist from the University of Gothenburg. “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,”