Annie Lööf to step down as Centre Party leader

The leader of Sweden's Centre Party has announced that she is stepping down as leader of the party she has led since 2011.

Annie Lööf to step down as Centre Party leader
Centre Party leader Annie Lööf announces her resignation at a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

Lööf, whose centre-right party broke from its former allies on the right over their support for the far-right Sweden Democrats, said she would stay on as leader until the party had selected a replacement. 

As she resigned she said she was “standing tall” in the knowledge that she had stuck to her principles, a reference to her party’s refusal to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats even at the cost of supporting the left-wing Social Democrats in government. 

“I have done my part and I know that there are others who are not going to let hate win.” 

She was, she said, “convinced that there are other forces which will push back when the limits of decency are being passed”. 

At the press conference, Lööf said that her decision had been partly influenced by the threats and abusive posts online she has faced since even before leaving the right-wing Alliance and giving her party’s support to the Social Democrats.

On July 6th, she was the intended target of a suspected terror attack at the Almedalen political festival. The perpetrator, Theodor Engström, who had a history in the extreme-right Nordic Resistance Movement, instead fatally stabbed a senior Swedish psychiatrist. 

She said that on Sunday, after the campaign was over she felt “a relief not to have come to any harm,” and a “relief at being able to fetch my daughters from daycare.”

“Of course, that hateful rhetoric has affected me.” 

But this was not the only reason for her decision, she said. 

“I came to the final conclusion yesterday, but this is a decision which I have slowly been coming to. If I was really honest, I would say I felt throughout this last mandate period that this would be the last election campaign I would lead.” 

 “After this decision,” she added, “my children are going to get more time with their mother.” 

In the election, the Centre Party’s share of the vote dropped from 8.6 percent to 6.7 percent, something Lööf said, “I am not satisfied with, absolutely not”.

“But it’s natural,” she said, “that you be judged on the basis of your most recent election result.” 

As for the party’s poor performance in the countryside, its main voting base when it was Sweden’s farmer’s party, she blamed “populist solutions that are impossible to implement”, such as the plan to cut diesel tax by 9 to 12 kronor, which she said had “lured lots and lots of people”. 

The Centre Party will now call an extraordinary party meeting to choose a new leader.  

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Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview


Elisabeth Svantesson has given her first long interview as finance minister, speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet daily just days after she presented her first budget on behalf of Sweden’s new, right-wing government.

The government has already faced accusations of deprioritising the climate crisis, and Svantesson conceded in the interview that its planned investment in nuclear power (which is a low-emission source of energy, but takes time to develop, so it pays off only in the long run) would also make it difficult to reach Sweden’s climate targets within the next decade.

Asked what will happen if Sweden does not meet its Agenda 2030 target, the sustainable development targets agreed by the United Nations, by that year, she said: “It would mean that we don’t meet the targets. If we don’t we don’t, but our ambition is to steer towards that goal.”

That quote, which was perceived as far more laissez-faire than the situation warrants, was met with criticism from the opposition.

“I’m astounded at how you sign agreements and vote for legislation in parliament only to ignore it when you feel like it,” said Green Party leader Per Bolund.

The Social Democrats’ former finance minister Mikael Damberg gave a diplomatic-or-patronising answer (a school of conflict avoidance that can be perfected only by a party that’s more used to being in power than not being in power) and guessed that Svantesson had perhaps not meant it like that. “Svantesson has had a lot to do this week, maybe she’s tired.”

Speaking of interviews, one Swedish newsroom has not yet been getting them, at least not with senior ministers. One of public broadcaster SVT’s top political interviewers, Anders Holmberg, points out that all four right-wing party leaders and several ministers have declined to appear on his “30 minuter”, a show famous for putting hard-hitting questions to politicians and senior decision-makers. It’s of course not mandatory to say yes to all interviews even as a politician, but it’s an unusual move.

It’s interesting that Bolund tried to attack Svantesson specifically on not following through on commitments. This has been a recurring piece of criticism since the new government was elected two months ago.

The budget was more conservative (in this particular case I mean conservative as in cautious rather than as in right-wing) than you might have expected based on the government’s election pledges, and it’s not the only campaign promise that they’ve been forced to backtrack on.

“The central thing is that they’re breaking most of their major election promises at the same time as as they’re not really managing to take care of the big social problems Sweden faces today,” Damberg told SVT.

To be fair, you would kind of expect him to say this (when has a political opposition party ever praised the government’s budget?), but significantly, the criticism hasn’t only come from the left-wing opposition.

Moderate Party politicians in the powerful Skåne region earlier this month slammed their party for failing to deliver the promised support to those suffering sky high power bills in the southern Swedish county.

“There are effectively no reforms, and they’re not putting in place the policies they campaigned for in the election,” the head of the liberal think tank Timbro told the Aftonbladet newspaper about the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether the label as “promise breakers” sticks, and whether that will affect the right-wing parties in the next election.

Did you know?

Parties make more and more pledges during election campaigns. Ahead of the 2014 election, a whopping 1,848 vallöften (election promises) were made, according to research by Gothenburg University, up from 326 in 1994.

You may not believe this, because the stereotypical image of the dishonest politician perhaps unfairly endures, but research shows that most politicians keep most of their election promises most of the time.

Swedish parties in a single-party government and coalition governments with a joint manifesto tend to deliver on between 80 and 90 percent of their vallöften, according to political scientist Elin Naurin. For coalition governments without a joint manifesto, it ranges from 50 to 70 percent.

In other news

the deputy mayor of the town of Norrtälje, who got 15 seconds – technically 26 seconds – of fame after he was left speechless when a reporter asked him to defend hefty pay rises for top councillors has resigned, saying he wants to take responsibility for what happened.

He also told SVT about his long and very awkward silence on camera that his brain had simply blacked out after having worked for 13 hours straight and gone nine hours without food in the post-election frenzy.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues after the Swedish election. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.