Politics For Members

Why the next vote on a Swedish PM will have such thin margins

Isabella Anderson
Isabella Anderson - [email protected]
Why the next vote on a Swedish PM will have such thin margins
STOCKHOLM 2018-11-14 Den historiska omröstningen i Sveriges riksdag när Ulf Kristersson (M) blev nedröstad. Strax före voteringen. Foto: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman / SvD / TT / Kod 10078 ** OUT DN, Dagens Industri (även arkiv) **

As the next vote to form a government looms, margins in Sweden's parliament have never been thinner, and the choice of who next runs Sweden could be down to a single MP, or even down to pure chance.


On Monday, the speaker of parliament announced that acting Stefan Löfven would face a vote on his candidacy as prime minister, after he was ousted by a vote of no confidence on June 21st. Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the Moderates and the right-wing bloc was the first to be given the task of trying to form a parliamentary majority last week, but said he had been unable to do so. 

In order to pass, the candidate needs a majority of MPs (175 out of 349) to either vote for them or abstain in the vote -- and the margins are wafer-thin. 


After the 2018 election left neither the traditional left- or right-wing blocs with a clear majority, Löfven was eventually voted in with the support of the Social Democrats and Greens (both part of the government), the Centre and Liberal Party (traditionally part of the right-wing blocs, but they agreed to support Löfven in exchange for policy influence) and the Left Party (traditional allies of the Social Democrats), giving him the support of 192 MPs.

But there are no guarantees he will reach a majority in any vote held this summer, particularly since the Liberal Party said they would pursue a right-wing government.

The seats or 'mandates' as they are called in Sweden are divided the same way as in 2018: the parties on the right of the spectrum (the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats) together have 174 mandates, while the parties to the left (the Social Democrats, Green Party, and Left Party) reach a total of 175 with the support of the Centre Party.

It would only take one person choosing to go against party lines, or indeed to be absent for the vote, for the balance to shift.

Decisive absences

For Swedish parliamentary votes, substitutes are only possible if an MP is away for at least one month, for example on long-term sick leave, meaning that illness could decide the vote. 

Social Democrat Jennie Nilsson announced her resignation as Rural Affairs Minister last week, so that she could once again take her seat in the parliament for the upcoming vote. While she served as minister, she was replaced in parliament, but her replacement has been absent on sick leave since December and not yet replaced. 

It has happened before that absences from MPs, even by mistake, have been decisive.

Left Party MP Christina Höj Larsen missed the vote for the parliamentary speaker in 2010 while in the toilet, and in the 2018 prime ministerial vote, Green Party MP Leila Ali-Elmi missed her chance due to issues with the voting tool itself. In 2019, Ludvig Asplund of the Sweden Democrats’ late arrival to a vote in the EU Committee meant that the right-wing bloc of the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats, lost their majority on expanding nuclear power research.


Rebel MPs

In addition to temporary absences, there's also the chance of MPs going against their party line, which in such a narrowly divided parliament could tip the scales.

Helena Lindahl of the Centre Party voted against her party line in 2018 when Löfven faced a parliamentary vote on his candidacy as PM. If she did this again, he could lose his majority, however last week she announced she would follow her party line in the upcoming votes.

The other centrist party, the Liberals, also has internal fractures that could come into play, since the party leader's decision to co-operate with the Sweden Democrats was not easily accepted by many of her party members, including senior MPs.


The independents

Furthermore, there are two sitting MPs who  have left their parties since the 2018 election and no longer have a party line to follow.

Amineh Kakabaveh, previously a member of the Left Party, is one of them, and has long been in conflict with the party leadership, eventually being expelled from the party in 2019 after the party said she did not come to meetings or pay the party tax. In the vote for Prime Minister after the 2018 election, she was absent, though she voted against her former party in last week's no-confidence vote, abstaining rather than voting against Löfven. Still, Kakabaveh could become Löfven’s greatest hurdle to come back as Prime Minister as she on Thursday said that she had not decided how she would be voting. 

The other independent MP, former Liberal Party member, has announced she would be leaving  parliament on June 22nd, but her replacement will only take his seat on August 1st, meaning Carlsson Löfdahl will vote in any votes that take place before this.

What if there's no majority?

If four prime ministerial candidates are proposed to parliament and all four fail to reach a majority, the speaker will be forced to call a snap election. This must take place within three months from its announcement.


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