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ANALYSIS: What the threat of a snap election means for Swedish politics

The Sweden Democrat party has called a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s government, adding a twist to a political conflict sparked by the Left Party.

ANALYSIS: What the threat of a snap election means for Swedish politics
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Hang on, did you say the Sweden Democrats and the Left Party?

Yes. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the one end of the Swedish political spectrum and the Left Party on the other end may seem like unlikely bedfellows, and they are, but they’ve got one thing in common: they want to topple the government.

Sort of, but we’ll get to that.

How did it start?

It started when the Left Party on Tuesday gave Löfven’s centre-left Social Democrat-Green coalition government a 48-hour deadline to throw out a proposal to abolish a hotly-debated rent cap on newly built rental apartments – saying it would try to organise a vote of no-confidence if the government did not either scrap the plans or begin immediate negotiations with the Swedish Tenants’ Union to improve them.

You could also say it started after the last election in 2018, which left neither of Sweden’s traditional political blocs with a clear majority. The government was forced to negotiate with its former opposition, and gained support from the Centre and Liberal parties. This meant that while the latter two are not part of the government, they agreed not to vote against the government’s formation, but in exchange they asked for significant influence on policy, one of the points being market rents for newbuilds, in other words allowing landlords to charge rent prices based on the open market price without restrictions such as rent caps.

You’ll often hear this deal referred to as the January Agreement.

Bet the Left weren’t too happy about that!

They weren’t thrilled, no, and in fact they’ve been saying ever since the election that if the government pushes ahead with market rents it will call a vote of no-confidence. They stuck by that this morning, even after the government promised to talk with the Tenants’ Union (which it will have to do anyway as part of Sweden’s standard process of consulting with relevant organisations before putting a bill to parliament).

Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar, who is just seven months into her job and took over this issue from former Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt, argued that talking wasn’t enough; she wanted the proposal to be sent back to the drawing table for hard negotiations.

I’m confused though, who is calling the no-confidence vote?

Well, in order to force a no-confidence vote, you need at least 35 members of parliament to sign it. The Left Party only has 27 seats, so it would need to join forces with other parties to force a vote. The Sweden Democrats said earlier this week that they would be willing to team up, but the Left rejected the help of the party, which is as we said on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

The government can more or less count on the support of the Centre and Liberal parties, since they are the ones that pushed for market rents, which left the conservative Moderates and Christian Democrats as the Left Party’s remaining potential allies.

These parties were in a conundrum: they don’t support the government, but do back market rents, and said they would not sign the motion to put a no-confidence vote to parliament. However, they will be happy to vote in favour of such a motion if it does make it to parliament – see further down and welcome to Sweden’s political roller-coaster of the month, we’ll be your guides, don’t forget to leave a tip.

So let me recap, the Left Party wants a no-confidence vote, but does not want to team up with the Sweden Democrats to force a no-confidence vote, but the Sweden Democrats…

are now taking matters into their own hands, yes.

The Sweden Democrats, unlike the Left Party, does have more than the 35 seats required to force a no-confidence vote. They’ve now said they want to hold a vote before parliament goes into recess before Midsummer’s Eve next week. The Sweden Democrats are also against market rents, so it’s in line with their political beliefs, although their driving force is that they’re mainly against the government.

This means there’s going to be a vote on Monday.

So will Löfven survive a no-confidence vote?

You need at least 175 of Sweden’s 349 members of parliament for such a vote to be successful. The Sweden Democrats, the Moderates and the Christian Democrats have said they will vote against Löfven, so assuming that the Left Party does not backtrack once it comes to a vote, that means a majority of the members of parliament will back a no-confidence vote.

This would be unprecedented. The Swedish parliament has held 11 no-confidence votes in its history, and none of them have been successful. Löfven’s minority government and its ministers hold the record: they’ve faced and survived an impressive six such votes since the 2014 election. Former trade union leader Löfven has also proven adept at negotiating and avoiding conflict at the eleventh hour.

If Löfven loses, what happens then?

If the parliament does pass a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, the entire government must resign or call a snap election.

If the government resigns without calling a new election, it will be up to the speaker of parliament to start a talmansrunda, the political process where the speaker holds talks with all party leaders to work out who’s got the best chance at forming a government.

It is not unlikely that Löfven would win a talmansrunda. The Left Party wants to make a strong point on market rents, but it doesn’t really, really want to topple the government, just… shake it up a little bit. So they may well be willing to again throw their support behind Löfven in a new talmansrunda, as he is to them the lesser of two evils when faced with the choice of a centre-left or right-wing government.

Löfven himself told a press conference on Thursday that his party, too, is against market rents and that there is not such a bill on the table. He argued that a proposal about market rents does not currently exist, merely a green paper, a report based on a government inquiry.

This is correct in theory: the inquiry’s proposal is currently in the very early stages of a potential legislative process, the consultation round, which means feedback from affected organisations is being gathered. After that, a final version could be prepared (if the government chooses to), including possible changes, with the aim of putting a bill to parliament in early 2022. If passed, they would then enter law from July 1st, 2022. The government might argue that it has not yet taken a stance, and that sending a report out for consulation is the normal procedure even if they decide not to push ahead with it in the end; the Left Party might argue that nonetheless, this is the first step.

Löfven said that he would now consider his options if he loses the no-confidence vote on Monday, whether to call a new election, or to resign (which would trigger a talmansrunda). “Throwing Sweden into a political crisis in this difficult situation,” he said, referring to the pandemic, “is not responsible”.

Just one more question, what are the pros and cons of market rents?

Right! There’s an actual issue behind this political palaver, we forgot.

Sweden currently has fairly strict regulations on renting. The reasoning behind this is that it keeps housing fair and affordable. But rent caps have also meant fewer new rental homes get built, especially smaller ones, because these are less profitable for owners.

Together with a rising population, especially in cities, this has led to a major housing shortage. Queues for first-hand rental contract are often a decade or more, which means many people end up on second-hand contracts – a market which is also in theory regulated, but is so competitive that tenants often get over-charged anyway.

Market rents could stimulate the production of more housing and shorten housing queues, but critics such as the Left Party and the Swedish Tenants’ Union (Hyresgästföreningen) say it will make housing more unaffordable, worsen protections for tenants, and increase housing segregation. It could also incentivise landlords to terminate contracts with tenants if they can find someone who will pay more.

Löfven argued that the proposal only affects newbuilds, and would in practice affect less than one percent of Swedish apartments.

You can read a more in-depth explanation in The Local’s article HERE, and we also recommend this long-read article about the story of Sweden’s housing crisis. You can also tune in to our Sweden in Focus podcast on Saturday, where we’ll be talking about this topic.

Member comments

  1. “The Left Party wants to make a strong point on market rents, but it doesn’t really, really want to topple the government, just… shake it up a little bit.”

    Just for the record, this is exactly what a bunch of Americans said about why they voted for Trump; they didn’t really like him, but they liked “government” less, so they just wanted to ‘shake it up a bit.’

    The Sweden Democrats *definitely* want topple this government and replace legislators with as many fascists as they can squeeze in.

    Sweden: be careful what you ask for – you might get it.

  2. No matter if you are right or left oriented, using political tricks, instead of working closely and negotiating, in times like now is simply stupid. I’m really sad that this way of politics came also to Sweden.

    1. Hi Anders,
      Thanks for sharing a comment with us. We are creating an article with readers’ views on the current situation. Are you happy for us to republish this in the article?

      1. Hej! Sure, it is important to constantly raise that politicians are to serve and help with running a country. Not fight in the name of their short term election interests.

  3. What for? and during a pandemic? to gain what? huge assist to Sverige”demokraterna” that warmly thank the Left Party.

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For members


Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.