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What will happen in this crunch month for Swedish politics?

King Carl XVI Gustaf arrives for the skifteskonselj, the ceremony at which a new government is appointed, back in July. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
King Carl XVI Gustaf arrives for the skifteskonselj, the ceremony at which a new government is appointed, back in July. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
Stefan Löfven will resign as prime minister after seven years, parliament will vote on Sweden's first female head of government, and a deal needs to be struck on the budget. Here's what's on the cards in the coming busy month in Swedish politics.

Judging by the euphoric atmosphere at the Social Democrats’ annual conference over the weekend, you’d have thought the party was at the beginning of a golden age.

The reality is a bit different, with the new party leader Magdalena Andersson facing a series of daunting challenges.

No one quite knows what will happen. She will probably pull through and become prime minister in the next week or so. But she might not.

This is the rough sequence of likely events. 

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1. Stefan Löfven resigns as prime minister

The Social Democrats are saying this could happen “early this week”.

The unwillingness to give a specific date could suggest that negotiations are continuing behind the scenes to make sure that Andersson, now Sweden’s finance minister, will have secured sufficient support from the Left, Centre and Green parties to make history as Sweden’s first female prime minister. 

Under Sweden’s system of negative parliamentarianism, a prime ministerial candidate needs only to convince a majority of MPs not to vote against their candidacy in parliament in order to take power. 

Formally, Stefan Löfven will visit the parliament’s speaker, Andreas Norlén, and request to step down.

Norlén will grant the request, but charge Löfven with leading a caretaker government until a new prime minister has been voted into place. 

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Magdalena Andersson and Stefan Löfven. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

2. The speaker calls in party leaders for discussions 

Norlén will then call in all the party leaders for talks so that he can ascertain which of them is most likely to be tolerated as prime minister by a majority in parliament.

Given that the current parliament has now voted in Löfven as prime minister twice, once in January 2019 and once this July, Norlén is almost certain to give his successor as Social Democrat leader, Magdalena Andersson, the first opportunity to put her candidacy to parliament.

The speaker might also simply jump this stage, and go straight to calling a vote for Andersson.  

Speaker Anders Norlén as the last new government was brought in back in June. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

3. Party leaders signal party voting intentions… or do they?

To get voted in as Sweden’s first female prime minister, Andersson needs to win the votes or abstentions of both the Centre Party’s 31 MPs and the Left Party’s 28 MPs. Together with the one hundred Social Democrat MPs and the 16 Green Party MPs, this brings her to the magic majority of 175 mandates. (The right-wing parties have 174). 

The problem is that there are three as yet unresolved obstacles to securing all those mandates. 

The first is that the economically liberal Centre Party has forbidden the Social Democrats from negotiating with the former communist Left Party. The Left Party, in turn, has made being brought into the negotiations its main demand for supporting a new Social Democrat PM. Who will back down? 

The second is that the Centre Party in July made its support for the government conditional on the government pushing ahead with reforms to forestry policy and to planning laws around coastal areas. The Green Party has refused to accept Centre’s proposals on forest policy or the coasts, and talks last month aimed at smoothing over the differences appear to have gone nowhere. Again, who will back down? 

The third is that the Centre Party in July made its support for the government conditional on the government pushing ahead with its long-desired reforms to labour laws, the so-called LAS reforms. The Left Party last week threatened not to back Andersson unless the government at least delays the implementation of these reforms. Again, who will back down? 

Andersson has so far brought a tougher line to the negotiations, warning the Left Party’s leader, Nooshi Dadgostar, that if her party doesn’t back her candidacy, they will be enabling “the most right-wing conservative government Sweden has had in modern times”.

Senior Social Democrats, meanwhile, have questioned whether Dadgostar, Lööf, or indeed the Green Party’s two leaders will be willing to stand in the way of history, and block Sweden’s first female prime minister. 

“Is Nooshi Dadgostar seriously considering stopping Sweden’s first female prime minister?” asked former foreign minister Margot Wallström in a post on Facebook last week.

This could be a miscalculation. 

Dadgostar showed herself willing to vote down a Social Democrat PM in June, and reaped substantial benefits from doing so. 

She could well be willing to do so again this week, whether the PM candidate is female or not.

She might calculate that as there is little risk of the Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson getting his own candidacy past parliament, she can stall the process and thereby win concessions. 

The concessions Dadgostar won in June (and her party’s resulting surge in the polls) could also push the Green Party and Centre to take a similarly hard-ball approach. 

“Each of them will know that this is quite an important moment. Because if if they could push the Social Democrats into concessions, that would do a lot to establish their future relationship between the parties,” Nicholas Aylott, associate professor at Södertörn University, told The Local.

“If the Left Party, for example, just waved Andersson through, then the Social Democrats might come to believe that it’s business as usual with that party and that they don’t need take too much notice of it. So it’s a very finely balanced bargaining situation.” 

4. Parliament votes

If Löfven resigns on Tuesday, the prime minister vote could be held by Friday,.

It is possible that the Social Democrats will in the coming days reveal a series of fudges that offer the Left, Centre, and Green parties just enough to justify them letting Andersson through as prime minister, meaning Andersson can go before parliament confident of victory.

Would the Social Democrats risk pushing ahead with a vote without resolving any, or at least one or two, of the three obstacles above, putting Andersson’s candidacy to the vote without securing the backing of its support parties?

They might do, and, indeed, they might have no choice. Once Löfven has requested to step down, it will be the speaker setting the timetable, and he might not allow too long a delay for negotiations. 

If Andersson’s candidacy falls, Kristersson may be offered the opportunity to put his own candidacy to a vote, after which, assuming Centre and the Social Democrats will then have made concessions to the Left Party, there will be another vote which Andersson should win. If the situation remains blocked, Löfven, as caretaker prime minister, would have to call a snap general election. 

5. Magdalena Andersson forms government 

If Andersson is voted through as prime minister at the end of this week, she will announce her new government, with fresh faces in most ministerial positions, as early as Monday next week.

Indeed, November 15th has already been pencilled into the diary by Sweden’s Royal Court as the day when Andersson’s new government will hold the so-called skifteskonselj, an audience with King Carl XVI Gustaf. 

The day will start with Andersson making a regeringsförklaring, or “Government policy statement” in parliament, and announcing the list of her new ministers.

The new government then crosses over to the Royal Palace near parliament where the prime minister and her ministers are formally appointed.  

Will this happen on Monday? Probably, Aylott believes. 

“I think the likeliest outcome is that the Social Democrats offer enough to everybody to keep this very rickety coalition parties just about together for the moment, but it’s not certain at all,” he says. 

6. Budget negotiations take off 

If Andersson does manages to take power next Monday, as her party hopes, she will immediately be thrown into another near crisis, as negotiations for the coming budget reach a crunch point.

On November 18th, just three days after she takes power, the basic budget framework will be published by the parliament’s finance commission, laying out how much tax the government will take in, and how the revenues will be shared between different areas. 

This will start an intense week of talks in the run-up to the parliament’s debate and vote on the framework on November 24th. 

The dissolution of the January Agreement means that the government no longer has a deal guaranteeing it majority support for its budget. It must therefore win the support of the Centre, Left, and Green parties to get the framework voted through, which for all the reasons outlined above, might be difficult. 

It is also likely that the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Sweden Democrat and Liberal parties will put forward an alternative budget, which there is a small risk might manage to win the support of parliament (as happened in 2014, forcing the Social Democrats to rule on a right-wing budget). 

Will it all go according to plan?

The only thing certain is that the next three weeks will be decisive ones. 


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