By Jennifer Bergman
As a politically stable country, Swedish domestic politics is not usually the centre of focus on the international scene, but two weeks ago, the Nordic country entered into a political crisis. On Monday the 21st of June, the Swedish government passed a vote of no confidence for the Social Democratic ruling party, with 181 of 349 parliamentary members voting against Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (Sveriges Radio, 2021). It is the first time in the country’s history that a vote of no confidence has passed to remove a Prime Minister. Given the times we are in an initial assumption could be that Monday’s vote is about the government’s handling of the pandemic over this past year, which have received widespread criticism. However, this is not the case. Instead, it is a result of the increasing polarisation that plagues, not just Swedish, but European politics. One that is characterised by parties’ failure to communicate and collaborate.
To understand why cross-party collaboration is so vital in Sweden we first need to understand the political system. Sweden has a multi-party system and any party that receives 4 per cent, or more, of the votes in the general election wins seats in parliament. There are currently eight parties in parliament. The Social Democrats are the ruling party in a minority coalition with the Swedish Green Party, supported by the Center Party, the Liberals, and the Left Party. The second-biggest party, and the biggest opponent to the Social Democrats, is the Moderate Party, closely followed by Swedish Democrats and lastly the Christian Democrats. This plurality means that one single party rarely gains the majority of votes and have to rely on the support of other parties to be able to form a government (Sveriges Riksdag, N.D).
While this pluralistic system does provide a space for a more diverse set of opinions than a two-party system it does rest on the fact that parties will be able to collaborate. A quality that Swedish politics have been seeing less and less of with increasing polarization over the past decade. The Social Democrats who won the general election in 2014 has remained in power since then with their supporting parties, but it is a government that is fraught with internal conflict. The conflict stems largely from the fact that the Social Democrats are collaborating with four parties who, in turn, hold contrasting ideological views. The clash came to its head in this week’s vote of no confidence which emerged as a result of the Left Parties opposing an item in the January Deal (januariavtalet), a deal that outlines how the country should be governed and on which the current government’s legitimacy rests. Item 44 specifically, proposed changes that would mean that rents in newly built apartments would be controlled by the market price, likely leading to an increase in rents. This decision, the Left Party believes, demonstrates how far the Social Democrats had strayed from their ideological roots (Olsson, Jakobsson & Rosén, 2021).
The clash over item 44 and the subsequent crisis stems from deeper issues within the Swedish government. The previous government’s main issue is rooted in the Center Party’s unwillingness to cooperate with parties on the periphery of the political spectrum, of which the Left Party is one. This makes it difficult for the Social Democrats to maintain the support of both parties, something they need, since by agreeing to the Left Party’s terms they may lose the support of the Center Party. While the Left Party has compromised heavily on its political position in supporting the January Deal, item 44 proved to be a deal-breaker. Opposing their demand, the Center Party initially played a pivotal role in their refusal to exclude this item from the deal (Dagens Industri, 2021). Interestingly, a poll done by Dagens Nyheter/Ipsos showed that a clear majority of Swedish voters were actually against this specific item, making it a seemingly futile point to create a political crisis over (Rosén, 2021).
Shortly after the vote, Annie Lööf, the leader of the Center Party, stated that they would be willing to back on the new rent legislation in exchange for lowering of income taxes and taxes on investment savings accounts (Stefansson, Silverberg and Nilsson, ). While this may have signalled a step forward in the current conflict, it did not change the unwillingness of the parties in government to collaborate. The deliberations saw another setback the following day as the Liberals announced that they will not support a rewrite of the January Deal and will instead move towards supporting the Moderate Party (Thurfjell, 2021).
Fast-forward two weeks and many events have taken place while at the same time there has been little progress. Instead of calling for a new election, Stefan Löfven and the Social Democrats government resigned. When this occurs, the parliamentary speaker steps in to assign another party leader with the task of forming a new government, a task that he gave to the Moderate Party’s leader Ulf Kristersson. However, simply handing over the baton does not magically make the underlying issue of collaboration disappear. After spending two days in deliberations, Ulf Kristersson had to admit defeat. Despite the support of the Liberals the Moderate Party still could not manage to gain the support of the majority of seats in parliament, with a narrow 174 seats against the Social Democrats coalition of 175 seats (Olsson & Rosén, 2021).
Upon the Moderate Party’s inability to gain majority support the speaker handed the task to form a new government back to the Social Democrats and Stefan Löfven found himself in a familiar position exactly where he started, trying to appease the different opinions of the Centre Party, the Green Party, and the Left Party. As of writing this, a potential vote will take place on Wednesday or Thursday this week that could see Stefan Löfven reinstated as prime minister and after evoking the vote of no confidence, the Left Party have stated that he will have their support in this week’s vote. However, they will not approve a subsequent state budget unless they have greater influence in drafting the new legislation than the previous January Deal (Stenberg, 2021). In other words, the Social Democrats still face the dilemma of trying to appease the Left Party’s demands while not losing the support of the Centre Party.
It remains to see how the events of these past weeks will influence next year’s upcoming election and if parties across the spectrum, in the future, can work to ensure better cooperation. Based on the current situation, it does not look very likely.
Dagens Industri (2021) ”Statsvetare om Lööfs roll i regeringskrisen: ’Kan vara det priset Löfven får betala’”, Dagens Industri, 23 June, accessed at https://www.dn.se/sverige/dn-ipsos-loofs-valjare-sager-nej-till-omstridda-hyresreformen/ 24 June 2021.
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