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POLITICS

Who’s who: The key players in Sweden’s political crisis

Sweden could be on the brink of a government collapse after a no-confidence motion that has seen parties from opposite sides of the political spectrum united in challenging the government. So who are the politicians involved in the upset?

Who's who: The key players in Sweden's political crisis
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (L) and Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar in parliament on Thursday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister and Leader of the Social Democrats

Sweden’s Social Democrat Prime Minister has been in the role since 2014, and came into politics after heading up one of Sweden’s most powerful trade unions, following a career as a welder.

The key thing to know about Löfven is that he’s known for his negotiation skills, and he’s had ample opportunity to flex them during his tenure.

Just months after taking power, his party failed to push its budget through, and Löfven called a snap election, but this was cancelled after crisis talks. In the next election in 2018, his party got its worst result in over a century, and it took four months of negotiations before a new government was put together. Still, Löfven remained at the helm. His government also holds the record for the most votes of no confidence, having survived six since the 2014 election. Can he continue holding on in the face of the latest challenge?


Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Nooshi Dadgostar, Leader of the Left Party

Nooshi Dadgostar is only seven months into the job after taking over from Jonas Sjöstedt in October, and she is the one who first issued the government a firm ultimatum with the threat of a no-confidence vote. Having been involved with the party since her teens, she has had a particular focus on the issue of housing which is what the current no-confidence vote revolves around.

The Left Party has never served in government but usually offers support to Social Democrat governments whenever they are in power. But when Löfven offered significant policy influence to the Centre and Liberal parties in exchange for their support, the Left Party at first said it would not support the government, and even after agreeing to do so, Sjöstedt made it clear the party considered itself “the left-wing opposition” rather than a supporter of the government.

Dadgostar has also stood firm on that, issuing Löfven an ultimatum over a bill on introducing market rates, saying that if the government did not either scrap the bill or negotiate with the Swedish Tenants’ Association within 48 hours, her party would work towards a vote of no confidence. Even though the government said it would talk to the Tenants’ Association (which it has to do anyway as part of the consultation process through which bills become law), Dadgostar held firm. She said that talking wasn’t enough; she wanted the proposal to be sent back to the drawing table for hard negotiations.


Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Jimmie Åkesson, Leader of the Sweden Democrats

Like Dadgostar, Åkesson has been involved with politics since his teens, but that’s where the similarities end – until now.

Åkesson took over leadership of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, which evolved from far-right organisations with neo-Nazi roots, and has worked to tone down its associations with racism, although tighter restrictions on immigration remains its core focus. Under Åkesson’s leadership, the party took a record 12.9 percent of the vote in the 2014 election, which increased to 17.5 percent four years later.

This growing vote share has caused ripples through the political landscape, forcing the centre-left government to accept support and policy influence (including on the introduction of market rents) from the right-of-centre opposition parties. 

Long frozen out of Swedish politics, the Sweden Democrats have recently received increasing cooperation from the Christian Democrats, Moderates and Liberals, with all four recently submitting a joint migration policy to the parliament to oppose the one proposed by the government.

The Left Party did not on its own have enough MPs to submit a no-confidence motion, and refused to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats on it. Åkesson’s party however does have enough MPs, and now plans to put forward the vote itself.


Jimmie Åkesson questions Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in parliament. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Andreas Norlén, parliamentary speaker and Moderate MP

The above politicians may be the ones who stoked the fire, but how will this crisis get solved? This is Sweden, so of course the answer is “probably over fika“.

Andreas Norlén is the parliamentary speaker, usually a low-profile role but one which comes into its own in moments of crisis. If the no-confidence vote succeeds, one possibility is that Norlén will 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.

This happened not so long ago after the 2018 elections left neither bloc with a clear majority. Several rounds of talmansrunda took place in the four months it took to form a government, with news columnists analysing every detail down to the different pastries Norlén served to each party leader, one of whom brought home-baked cinnamon buns as a contribution to the talks.

Norlén is a member of the Moderate Party, which is unusual since the speaker usually comes from Sweden’s largest political party or bloc. This is another consequence of the increasingly fractured political landscape; at the time of the 2018 election, the centre-right bloc comprising the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre and Liberal Parties would not accept the support of the Sweden Democrats to form a government, leaving them without a majority, because this would have required cooperating with them on policy. But because the Sweden Democrats preferred the right-of-centre speaker candidate to the centre-left candidate, the Moderate candidate was named speaker.


Andreas Norlén’s fika with Löfven during one of the 2018 talmansrunda. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT 

Tune in to The Local’s Sweden in Focus podcast on Saturday, where we’ll be talking about the government crisis.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.

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