For members


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

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.

Why the next vote on a Swedish PM will have such thin margins
The vote in parliament may depend on only one MP. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman / SvD / TT

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new 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.