Former trade union chief Löfven took the reins of the Social Democrats in 2012 and led his party to two successful elections in 2014 and 2018. But a new leader will take over ahead of the 2022 election, Löfven said in a speech on Sunday.
He will step down at the party’s congress in November.
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Löfven, 64, came into politics after heading up one of Sweden’s most powerful trade unions, IF Metall, following a career as a welder.
He is known for his negotiation skills, and he’s had ample opportunity to flex them during his tenure, but the party has been struggling in the polls.
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.
Earlier this summer, he became Sweden’s first prime minister in history to lose a no-confidence vote, following a row over rent controls. However, the opposition was unable to form a viable coalition to take over, and so Löfven returned to the helm again, only two weeks later.
Löfven announced his resignation at his annual summer speech, this year held in Åkersberga near Stockholm.
“The decision has matured over time. I have been party chairman for ten years, prime minister for seven. These years have been amazing. But everything comes to an end. I want to give my successor the best of conditions,” he said.
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Löfven has led a weak minority government together with the Greens Party for the past three years, struggling to find a workable coalition following the inconclusive elections of September 2018.
The announcement of his resignation came nonetheless as a surprise, as Löfven had previously indicated he wanted to lead the party in the next election campaign.
But Ewa Stenberg, political commentator at Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said it was a wise decision on his part.
“Lofven’s not a good election campaigner or debater, he’s not the leader the Social Democrats need in a tough election campaign where rhetoric is important,” she wrote.
“Against that background, it’s logical that he hands over to someone who’s better with words and who can spark enthusiasm.”
Woman as next PM?
It is not yet known who will succeed Löfven as party leader, though Stenberg and other political commentators speculated that Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson was a hot tip.
Andersson has held the finance portfolio for seven years, and has on occasion stood in for the prime minister.
Health Minister Lena Hallengren, who like Andersson enjoys relatively high ratings among the public, especially for her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, was also mentioned as a possible successor.
Despite being a longstanding champion of women’s rights and gender equality, Sweden, unlike its Nordic neighbours, has yet to have a woman prime minister.
Whoever is elected to succeed Löfven as party leader would have to be approved by parliament in order to take over as prime minister.
Since coming to power in 2014, Löfven has weathered the decline of social democracy in Europe, the rise of the far right and even the pandemic.