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POLITICS

Sweden’s political crisis: Your questions answered

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven resigned this week after an unprecedented vote of no confidence, triggering cross-party talks aimed at finding a new government. We've answered some of your questions on the current political situation.

Sweden's political crisis: Your questions answered
Centre Party leader Annie Lööf in talks with parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlén. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What happened?

The government failed a vote of no confidence which brought together the Left Party (which was strongly against proposals to change Swedish rental laws, which the government had agreed with its former conservative opposition rivals) and the right-of-centre parties (which mostly support the rental law in question but seized the chance to topple the left-of-centre government).

That meant Prime Minister Stefan Löfven had a week to decide whether to call snap elections or resign, and on Monday he announced he had opted for the latter.

And what happens now?

On Tuesday, all the party leaders met individually with parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlén, the first talmansrunda (‘speaker round’) aimed at finding out where each party stands, to decide on whether a candidate can be nominated as prime minister who would have a good chance of passing a parliamentary vote.

There is no time limit on how long this can take, and the current fractured state of Swedish politics means it could take a while for a compromise to be reached. The process ends either when a prime ministerial candidate is found who has the backing of a parliamentary majority, or when candidates have been proposed four times and all failed the vote, at which point a snap election would have to be called.

So who’s running the country?

Stefan Löfven continues as prime minister, but of a transition government. This means the government cannot make major decisions until there’s a resolution in the form of a new prime ministerial nominee.

How many seats does each party have?

Sweden’s 349 seats or mandates are currently divided as follows.

Social Democrats: 100
Moderate Party: 70
Sweden Democrats: 62
Centre Party: 31
Left Party: 27
Christian Democrats: 22
Liberal Party: 19
Green Party: 16

That adds up to 347, because there are also two independent MPs without a party affiliation. One of them is a former Liberal Party member, and the other a former Left Party member (though it’s worth noting that she voted against her former party, in favour of Löfven’s government, in the vote of no confidence).

What needs to happen for a new prime minister to be chosen?

They need to be formally proposed as a PM candidate by the parliamentary speaker, which will usually only happen if the speaker thinks they have a good chance of getting a parliamentary majority.

Then, parliament will take a vote on installing the candidate as prime minister. MPs have three choices: they can vote green (in favour), red (against) or yellow (abstention). Importantly, the decisive factor in Sweden is that a candidate needs a majority to not vote against them in order to pass the vote. In other words, abstention is a kind of support, often called ‘passive support’.

What are the different options for a government?

One option is the return of a Social Democrat-Green government, which would rely on support from the Centre and Left Parties at a minimum to reach the required majority.

On the right of the political spectrum, a Moderate-Christian Democrat government could become a reality, possibly including the Liberal Party. With the support of the Liberal Party and the Sweden Democrats, they would be one vote short, but could take power with the support of just one or more other MPs going against the party line, and one Centre Party MP did just that in 2018.

Another option is a centrist coalition, the preferred option of Centre Party leader Annie Lööf, which could see her party unite others from both sides of the coalition. The biggest obstacle to this reality is the reluctance of the Social Democrats and Moderates to work together. 

Why didn’t we get a snap election?

Well, Sweden could still go to the polls if no government can be formed during the rounds of talks. 

Stefan Löfven said he opted against a snap election because this wasn’t “in the country’s best interest” amidst an ongoing pandemic, since it would cause several months of political uncertainty.

There’s also the pragmatic explanation that most parties would not benefit from an election right now. It costs money to campaign; they’d have less time than they bargained for to work on their strategy; and two parties (the Greens and Liberals) currently look at risk of falling below the number of votes needed to enter parliament. To cap it all off, whoever won a snap election would only be in power for a year, because the general election scheduled for September 2022 would go ahead anyway.

What does the crisis mean for me as a Swedish resident?

It all depends on the outcome. As of now, the economy and the value of the kronor hasn’t been particularly swayed one way or the other by the crisis, so there’s been little change in your purchasing power. 

But the make-up of any new government will of course affect which laws and reforms are pushed through in the next year. For example, the Moderates have vowed to pursue a stricter immigration policy if they get into power, while the Centre Party want tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners and on investment savings accounts (ISKs), and the Social Democrats are hoping to pass a law that would give parents of young children an extra week of annual leave.

So although a lot of the debate may be about internal party rifts and fractures, it’s important to remember that there are real issues at stake too, which could have an impact on your life in Sweden.

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains how Sweden's parliamentary committees work – and the role the Sweden Democrats will play in them.

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

Hej,

The speaker of parliament has given Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderates and the likely next prime minister of Sweden, October 12th as a deadline to conclude his government negotiations.

If Kristersson comes up with a viable proposal for a ruling coalition, the speaker will put that proposal to parliament within four days. Chances are Sweden will have its new right-wing government by mid-October.

What will that government look like? Most likely, it will consist of at least the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. Rumours have it Kristersson is hoping to bring the Liberals into the governmental fold, and it is unlikely that the far-right Sweden Democrats will be part of the government.

But anyone who thinks the latter means they will be left on the sidelines is mistaken. They will have demanded significant concessions in order to support Kristersson’s government (and especially to make way for the Liberals) from parliament, and judging from recent news, they got them.

In a joint press release last week, the right wing – the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats – said they had reached a deal on how to share responsibility for their parliamentary committees.

There are 15 committees in the Swedish parliament, seats on which are held by members of parliament, with larger parties getting more seats as well as more high-ranking roles such as chair and deputy chair.

The right wing is after this election entitled to 16 chair and deputy chair roles, and the Sweden Democrats will get half of those, the parties agreed. The key thing that many political pundits were keeping an eye on was which committees, as that tells us a lot about how far they got in their negotiations with the other right-wing parties. The answer: far.

The Sweden Democrats will get to chair the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour Market, and Industry and Trade Committees – all heavyweight committees. 

Their most high-profile appointment is Richard Jomshof, one of the most senior Sweden Democrats who in the run-up to the election gave an anti-Islam speech (not the first time). He will chair the Justice Committee.

The Moderates will chair the Finance and Social Insurance Committees (plus the EU Committee), the Christian Democrats will chair the Health and Welfare Committee, and the Liberals will chair the Education Committee.

On the other side, the left-wing parties will get to chair the Defence, Taxation, Constitution, Civil Affairs, Transport and Communications, Environment and Agriculture, and Cultural Affairs Committees.

So what exactly do the parliamentary committees do, and how much influence will the Sweden Democrats now have over legislation?

The votes of every member of the committees count equally (there are at least 15 members on every committee, representing the various parties from left to right), and the chair gets the final vote if there’s a tie. He or she also has influence over the committee’s agenda and over how meetings are directed, with the position also bringing prestige.

All government bills and proposals by members of parliament first go through one of the committees before they can be put to the main chamber for a vote. The committee adopts a position on the proposal and although the final decision rests with the 349 members of the main chamber, they usually vote for the committee’s position since the make-up of their members represent the parties in parliament.

Although chair positions give them a procedural advantage, the Sweden Democrats won’t have unlimited power over their committees, since as I said, the other parties have seats too and their votes count equally.

The main benefit for the Sweden Democrats is rather the soft power it gives them. The chair is the face of the parliamentary committee, and these senior roles will force the other parties to take them seriously.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that they’ll have enough seats on each committee that they will have a key kingmaker role where they can side either with the government or the opposition – giving them fairly significant negotiating power when it comes to future legislation.

In other news, the Swedish parliament last week re-elected the popular Andreas Norlén as speaker, it’s been taking much longer than usual to get a work permit (here’s why) and foreigners are calling for the Migration Agency to issue special visas to allow those affected by renewal delays to leave Sweden and return, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has stopped leaking gas, and households in Sweden are starting to feel the economic squeeze.

In the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, host Paul O’Mahony is joined by Handelsbanken chief economist Johan Löf, as well as The Local’s Becky Waterton, Richard Orange and James Savage.

Many thanks to everyone who’s got in touch lately with your thoughts and feedback about Sweden Elects. I’m happy it’s useful to you. If you have any questions about Swedish politics, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Emma

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 as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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