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ANALYSIS: What's next for Sweden after Löfven's sudden exit?

Lisa Bjurwald
Lisa Bjurwald - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: What's next for Sweden after Löfven's sudden exit?
Stefan Löfven, centre, and in a white jacket, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, who has been mentioned as a potential successor. Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will step down in November, leaving the future uncertain for whoever takes over the reins. The Local’s columnist Lisa Bjurwald sorts out the knowns from the unknowns and looks at what’s next for Sweden.


Sweden’s long-time Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has, surprisingly, announced his exit as party leader. This despite repeated assurances about leading next year’s general election campaign. The secret of his forthcoming exit was apparently guarded so closely that some of his own ministers were caught off-guard at the announcement on Sunday.

Löfven has become known for his ability to survive crisis after crisis, but it seems the Social Democratic party has at last deemed the burden of seven years in power – and the humiliating loss of a no-confidence vote this summer – too heavy to lead them to an electoral win.

Why now?

Giving a new leader enough time to establish him or herself before the start of next years election campaign is the foremost practical reason for Löfven to announce his exit at this point in time. Even if the soon-to-be ex-PM himself feels he would have the stamina to run a successful campaign, the risk of having it tainted by repeated, long-running criticisms of his leadership is high. Another face at the helm would give the Social Democrats a better chance of successfully focusing on promises of the future rather than failures of the past.

By leaving before the campaign kicks off, Löfven will dodge responsibility for several serious problems during his time in power – most notably the rise in violent gun crime and the high pandemic death toll. This doesn’t flatter a well-functioning democracy built on principles of holding power to account and it’s an issue that political scientists are likely to bring up during the election.


The odds are currently favouring Löfven’s "crown princess" Magdalena Andersson as successor. The question is whether her (generally spoken of in positive terms) achievements as Sweden’s Minister for Finance would outshine the fact that she’s been part of the government for as long as Löfven himself, or if his shadow would extend to her. This would mean that she too could be held accountable for gang crime spilling over onto the streets, a failed pandemic response, the dissolution and flop of Löfven’s so-called January Agreement, the endless government crises since, and so on.

Sweden is an exceptionally stable country, especially from a global perspective, and the political chaos of the past few years has made Swedish voters uneasy. Within the party, there is great unease too about the Social Democrats’ many compromises and their perceived turn to the right. Magdalena Andersson is a political animal, strategic rather than ideologically driven. There are fears internally that she would take the compromising even further instead of steering the party back towards the centre-left.

What happens now?

The Social Democrats will automatically score many points with voters if they pick a female party leader – Sweden's first female Prime Minister – especially if that person ends up doing well in the election. But a Social Democratic win in the national election next autumn seems unlikely. The once-dominant party achieved their worst results in modern history in the general election of 2018: 28 percent of the general vote. In the August 2021 polls, the figures have sunk even further, down to 24 percent. And in two decades, support from first-time voters has dropped from 30 to 20 percent.


Stefan Löfven has been an impressive leader in some ways, once dubbed "the Harry Houdini of European politics" by Politico for his ability to get out of tight corners. But what the party needs now is a fighter, someone with visions, energy, and an oppositional mindset to turn the tide and bring the disastrous figures back up. After almost a decade on the party chairman post, 64-year-old Löfven was clearly not thought to be up for the task ahead. On a side note, the contrast with the Left Partys new female leader, 36-year-old Nooshi Dadgostarwho brought down the PM in this summers no-confidence vote and is roping in young voters in droves – is striking.

Stefan Löfven may have succeeded in his party’s long-standing goal of breaking up the right’s tight union, leaving the Moderate Party, the Liberals et al in a right mess. But let’s not forget the huge and sudden crack in the relationship between the Social Democrats and their former allies in the Left Party, as well as the high tensions between the Social Democrats and their coalition partners in the Green Party. Thus, Löfven’s successor needs to be a fighter as well as a healer, or at least a highly skilled diplomat. Best of luck to him/her…

Lisa Bjurwald is a Swedish journalist and author covering current affairs, culture and politics since the mid-1990s. Her latest work BB-krisen, on the Swedish maternity care crisis, was dubbed Best reportage book of 2019 by Aftonbladet daily newspaper. She is also an external columnist for The Local – read her columns here.


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