OPINION: Has Sweden’s prime minister paid the price for his passivity?

OPINION: Has Sweden's prime minister paid the price for his passivity?
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven hasn't appeared to be the one in charge for quite some time, writes Lisa Bjurwald. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
Sweden's government collapsed on Monday after a vote of no confidence won enough support. The Local's columnist Lisa Bjurwald questions if the vote is the natural result of the prime minister appearing to hand over the reins on crucial issues.

“Mr Speaker, a dishonest coalition wish to kill off the January Agreement. They have agreed on one single thing: what they are against.”

There was no lack of drama in today’s parliament showdown, where disparate political underdogs the Left Party (V), the Christian Democrats (KD), and the Sweden Democrats (SD) joined forces with the Moderate Party (M), traditionally one of the two major parties in the country, to overthrow the Swedish government.

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There are, of course, several ways to regard this ambush. You might view them, like Centre Party (C) leader Annie Lööf, quoted above, as an “unholy coalition” of leftists, conservative Christians, and ultra-nationalists, lacking a roadmap of their own but nevertheless hellbent (for a bunch of differing reasons) to get rid of “passive,” “not fit to lead” social democratic Prime Minister Stefan Löfven – even if that means throwing the country into political turmoil.

Others, including leading political commentators, view the events of the last couple of days as a natural and healthy democratic cleansing process.

The current minority coalition government was always a shaky one, built on the 73-point so-called January Agreement of 2019 and confusing to many voters, who presumed it was just a temporary deal. Not so. Had the government been more stable, the Left Party’s ultimatum on rent control (which kicked off the whole process) would probably have been deemed as more irresponsible.

A majority of parliament members, 181 of a total 349, seemed to take the second position and at 10:52am Monday, the verdict was read out: the prime minister had been ousted, the first ever in Swedish political history to lose in a vote of no confidence. 175 votes were required.

“It’s nothing to applaud, but it is an expression of our vibrant democracy,” one Moderate Party lawmaker offered after the historical vote.

Is Stefan Löfven one of the first European leaders to suffer the political consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Maybe, but he is certainly a victim of the whims of populist parties (in this instance, at both the far left and right of the spectrum). It’s always a risk with fringe parties and Löfven should, in hindsight, have taken the threats of the Left Party more seriously.

Leftist voters are now jubilant, having proven that their party – currently at only nine percent in the polls – is a force to be reckoned with. New Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar has certainly increased her clout as well.

The message is clear: if they don’t get their way in key issues (in this instance, the rental market), they won’t hesitate to bite the hand that feeds them.

So, what now?

Stefan Löfven has a week to decide on how to move forward and is likely to go for a snap election, as the other option would be to hand over the process of putting together a new government to the speaker of the parliament.

At least now Löfven’s got a chance to stay in power until next autumn’s regular parliamentary elections.

The problem is, the Swedish PM hasn’t seemed fit for the fight for a long time.

Handing over the Covid-19 response to the Public Health Agency may or may not have been a good idea, depending on your stance, but it’s clear that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell appeared to be the one in charge for most of the pandemic year.

Many Swedes are sure to lament that Tegnell won’t run in a forthcoming snap election.

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