STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Loefven addresses a press conference yesterday at Rosenbad in Stockholm, where he announced his resignation one week after he lost a vote of no confidence in parliament. – AFP

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven resigned yesterday, one week after he lost a vote of no confidence, leaving it up to the speaker of parliament to begin the search for a replacement. Lofven could have either called a snap election or resigned following the no-confidence vote last week. He told a press conference that a snap election was “not what is best for Sweden”, pointing to the difficult situation the COVID-19 pandemic posed, coupled with the fact that the next general election-which would go ahead regardless-is a year away.

“With that starting point, I have requested the speaker to relieve me as prime minister,” Lofven said. The Social Democrat leader-a master of consensus for some, a dull and visionless party man for others-had seven days after the confidence vote to contemplate his options and try and secure a parliamentary majority for a potential reforming of his government.

The 63-year-old Lofven, a former welder and union leader with the square build and nose of a boxer, guided the Swedish left back to power in 2014, and then hung on by moving his party closer to the center-right after the 2018 elections. He finally fell out with the Left Party propping up his government, becoming the first Swedish government leader to be defeated by a no confidence vote.

The confidence motion was filed by the far-right Sweden Democrats, after the Left Party said it was planning such a motion itself in protest against a plan to ease rent controls. On the left, the proposal for “market rents”-which would potentially allow landlords to freely set rents for new apartments-is seen as being at odds with the Swedish social model and a threat to tenants’ rights. The conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats were quick to back the motion, which was passed by 181 MPs in the 349-seat parliament.

Last-ditch efforts to appease the Left Party, which holds 27 seats, failed. Critics have described the constellation that joined forces against Lofven as an “unholy alliance” of parties at opposite ends 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, thus ended up setting an unwanted precedent.

Tolerated by parliament
Lofven’s minority government took power in 2019 after months of political turmoil following inconclusive elections in 2018. To secure control it signed a deal with two center-left parties, the Centre Party and the Liberals, and was propped up by the Left Party. It will now be up to parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlen to open negotiations with parties to find a new prime minister. Last time, the process took four months, but Norlen has already signaled that he will not let it take as long this time around.

The Swedish system demands that a prime minister is tolerated by parliament-they can secure office so long as a majority does not vote against them. Should the process fail, the country could still end up heading to the polls early. And even if an “extra election” is called, Swedes will still vote in the scheduled general election in September 2022 — creating the possibility of two elections in less than a year.

According to an Ipsos opinion poll published Tuesday, the right and far-right would come out on top in a general election, with a very slim parliamentary majority. In announcing his resignation, Lofven criticized the move to topple his government without having a majority secured to replace him. “They voted the government out without themselves having an alternative for government,” he told reporters, adding that should he be given the opportunity, he was still open to returning as prime minister. “If the speaker proposes, I’m ready to be tested again in the parliament,” Lofven said. Lofven’s government will stay on temporarily to handle routine tasks until a new administration is formed. – AFP