Swedish government on the brink after PM Löfven loses no-confidence vote
Vote in parliament means Swedish prime minister can either call a snap election or try to form a new coalition.
STOCKHOLM — A clash over housing policy in Sweden led to a full-blown government crisis on Monday as a fragmented parliament withdrew its support for Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
In a vote of no confidence, 181 lawmakers voted against Löfven, with 109 in favor and 51 abstentions. It was the first time ever that a Swedish prime minister has lost a vote of no confidence.
Löfven now has a week to decide between two options: He can call a snap election, or resign and try to build a new governing coalition without a new election. If he picks the latter and fails, opposition parties would then be given a chance to try and form a government. If they cannot do so, a snap election would be called, likely in the fall, a year ahead of the next scheduled election.
In voting to remove Löfven, lawmakers from the Left Party — whose withdrawal of support from the prime minister on Thursday led to the vote — were joined by erstwhile rivals from the center-right Moderate Party and Christian Democrats and the increasingly influential far-right Sweden Democrats (SD).
“We aren’t taking this step lightly, we have done everything we can to solve this situation, but now we are where we are,” Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar told fellow lawmakers in parliament before the vote. “We must keep our word … we must stand on the side of the tenants.”
Dadgostar ended her backing for Löfven after he moved forward with a plan to weaken controls on Swedish apartment rents — which are designed to make housing costs more manageable for tenants — in order to meet a demand from another of his allies, the Centre Party.
The Centre Party believes easing rent controls will stimulate the building of new apartments that Sweden’s big cities need.
That such a narrow issue could cause the government’s breakdown reflects both the significance of housing policy as a political issue in Sweden and also how the fragmentation of parliament has made it harder for lawmakers to reach consensus on key issues.
Like many European nations, from Finland to France and from Germany to Greece, Sweden has seen the emergence of an influential far-right anti-immigration political party, in this case SD.
As support for SD as a new power in politics has risen to around 20 percent, traditional mainstream center-left and center-right parties have found it increasingly difficult to form coalitions with a functioning majority.
Sweden’s center-right parties long refused to discuss policy with SD and the country’s center-left parties continue to do so.
After the last election in 2018, it took Löfven four months to form a government because he needed to cajole two new centrist allies — the Centre Party and the Liberals — to back his government in order to secure a second term in office.
To strike that deal, Löfven promised the Centre Party he would allow rents on new-build apartments to be set by landlords rather than via collective bargaining between tenants’ associations and landlords as they are now.
The Left Party said if Löfven ever made good on that promise it would withdraw its support from him.
While the Left Party’s move against Löfven was driven by its desire to mark its displeasure over his direction on housing policy, the other parties that backed the no-confidence vote did so because they want to try and form a replacement government themselves.
Ebba Busch, the leader of the Christian Democrats, said the vote had come about because Löfven had made incompatible commitments to his allies and it was now time to remove him.
“We said we would do all we can to give Sweden a new leadership,” she said. “We said we would take every chance to remove this government, and today we make good on our word.”
SD leader Jimmie Åkesson called Löfven’s government “destructive” and said it should be thrown on the “rubbish tip of history.”
“This has been a historically weak government which has been totally unable to solve the problems people meet in their daily lives,” Åkesson said. “This government should never have taken power.”
At a press briefing after the vote, Löfven said he planned to use the next week to decide on his next steps and he would begin with talks with the party leaders who have backed him so far.
A decision on a way forward may not take the full week, he said.
“We’ll have to see,” he said. “My main focus has to be on what is best for Sweden.”