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Swedish Moderate leader's power play backfires leaving opposition divisions exposed

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Swedish Moderate leader's power play backfires leaving opposition divisions exposed
Moderate leader Anna Kinberg-Batra (left) and Centre Party head Annie Lööf (right) disagree on putting forward a joint budget proposal. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
10:51 CET+01:00
An attempt to put pressure on the Swedish government may have turned into a political own-goal for Sweden's Moderates, whose threat to topple the coalition government by putting forward a joint opposition Alliance budget proposal was quickly shot down by two of the other centre-right parties.

Sweden is currently governed by a minority Social Democrat-Green coalition, but it was thrust into crisis early in its tenure during the autumn of 2014 when the opposition Alliance's alternative budget proposal received more votes than the government's thanks to the backing of the nationalist Sweden Democrats (SD).

A snap election in early 2015 was only narrowly avoided when the four centre-right Alliance parties agreed not to vote for their own alternative budget in future votes if it would threaten the elected government's proposal from being passed.

The deal, known as the "December Agreement", fell apart a year later however, and on Thursday, Moderate leader Anna Kinberg-Batra threatened to submit an Alliance budget proposal in the forthcoming autumn, which could lead to a repeat of the 2014 crisis.

"I am concerned with developments in Sweden where there are too many who are not entering the labour market and where security fails many. (Prime Minister) Löfven's weak government does not meet those requirements. We want to do something about that," she said.

"We must be prepared to act together with a common budget proposal," the Moderate leader added.

The December 2014 agreement also stopped the far-right SD from holding the balance of power in the Riksdag, but Kinberg-Batra has suggested she would be willing to talk to the nationalists, though ruled out allowing them to be part of budget negotiations.

"We should not allow ourselves to be hindered by the support of other parties. In matters where it is possible to reach an agreement I don't think that we should not talk to SD. I want to break the lock on them because of the parliamentary situation we have. But we will not negotiate a budget with them," she explained.

For a political crisis similar to 2014 to occur the other members of the Alliance – the Centre Party, Liberals and Christian Democrats – would need to support Kinberg-Batra's move.

But Centre Party leader Annie Lööf was quick to pour cold water on Kinberg-Batra's suggestion, ruling out working with SD and insisting that Sweden needs political stability.

"I think it is a shame that we don't have greater consensus in budgetary matters and in our view of SD. It would be good if we used 2017 to continue to present shared proposals. We had been looking forward to continuing on that line. We need to develop the political reform agenda," Lööf commented. 

"I don't want to throw Sweden into instability. Tomorrow Donald Trump is sworn in as president, yesterday the UK's Prime Minister said there will be a hard Brexit. In such a time, stability, security and leadership is needed. There is a (general election) vote next year, one and a half years are left. Now is the time to hone policy and increase voter confidence. Our ambition is to replace Stefan Löfven,” she added.

The Liberals also expressed skepticism, with their leader in the Riksdag calling Kinberg-Batra's statements “unfortunate”.

"I don't believe that in the current situation it's responsible to throw Sweden into the chaos of a new election," Christer Nylander said.

"It's unfortunate, but things have gone up and down in the Alliance cooperation and I presume we will pull together before the vote," he added.

Swedish PM Löfven turned the political manoeuvre against Kinberg-Batra, accusing the Moderates of losing their way.

"This gives the impression of a Moderate leadership which has completely lost its way," he commented, suggesting the opposition party changes its stance every month.

"In these times Sweden needs stability and security. Citizens need that and businesses need that. In a worrying time we are taking responsibility for the country," he added.

Löfven also suggested that the distancing from the Liberals and Centre Party could be a sign that Sweden is is moving towards a new political climate.

A political scientist from Stockholm University said the move had weakened the Alliance block.

"This clearly weakens the Alliance," Tommy Möller observed.

"Kinberg-Batra is in a trap. There is strong internal pressure to exploit the potential for a majority, but that is blocked by the Centre Party and Liberals."

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