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ANALYSIS: What the threat of a snap election means for Swedish politics

ANALYSIS: What the threat of a snap election means for Swedish politics
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
The Sweden Democrat party has called a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s government, adding a twist to a political conflict sparked by the Left Party.

Hang on, did you say the Sweden Democrats and the Left Party?

Yes. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the one end of the Swedish political spectrum and the Left Party on the other end may seem like unlikely bedfellows, and they are, but they’ve got one thing in common: they want to topple the government.

Sort of, but we’ll get to that.

How did it start?

It started when the Left Party on Tuesday gave Löfven’s centre-left Social Democrat-Green coalition government a 48-hour deadline to throw out a proposal to abolish a hotly-debated rent cap on newly built rental apartments – saying it would try to organise a vote of no-confidence if the government did not either scrap the plans or begin immediate negotiations with the Swedish Tenants’ Union to improve them.

You could also say it started after the last election in 2018, which left neither of Sweden’s traditional political blocs with a clear majority. The government was forced to negotiate with its former opposition, and gained support from the Centre and Liberal parties. This meant that while the latter two are not part of the government, they agreed not to vote against the government’s formation, but in exchange they asked for significant influence on policy, one of the points being market rents for newbuilds, in other words allowing landlords to charge rent prices based on the open market price without restrictions such as rent caps.

You’ll often hear this deal referred to as the January Agreement.

Bet the Left weren’t too happy about that!

They weren’t thrilled, no, and in fact they’ve been saying ever since the election that if the government pushes ahead with market rents it will call a vote of no-confidence. They stuck by that this morning, even after the government promised to talk with the Tenants’ Union (which it will have to do anyway as part of Sweden’s standard process of consulting with relevant organisations before putting a bill to parliament).

Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar, who is just seven months into her job and took over this issue from former Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt, argued that talking wasn’t enough; she wanted the proposal to be sent back to the drawing table for hard negotiations.

I’m confused though, who is calling the no-confidence vote?

Well, in order to force a no-confidence vote, you need at least 35 members of parliament to sign it. The Left Party only has 27 seats, so it would need to join forces with other parties to force a vote. The Sweden Democrats said earlier this week that they would be willing to team up, but the Left rejected the help of the party, which is as we said on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

The government can more or less count on the support of the Centre and Liberal parties, since they are the ones that pushed for market rents, which left the conservative Moderates and Christian Democrats as the Left Party’s remaining potential allies.

These parties were in a conundrum: they don’t support the government, but do back market rents, and said they would not sign the motion to put a no-confidence vote to parliament. However, they will be happy to vote in favour of such a motion if it does make it to parliament – see further down and welcome to Sweden’s political roller-coaster of the month, we’ll be your guides, don’t forget to leave a tip.

So let me recap, the Left Party wants a no-confidence vote, but does not want to team up with the Sweden Democrats to force a no-confidence vote, but the Sweden Democrats…

are now taking matters into their own hands, yes.

The Sweden Democrats, unlike the Left Party, does have more than the 35 seats required to force a no-confidence vote. They’ve now said they want to hold a vote before parliament goes into recess before Midsummer’s Eve next week. The Sweden Democrats are also against market rents, so it’s in line with their political beliefs, although their driving force is that they’re mainly against the government.

This means there’s going to be a vote on Monday.

So will Löfven survive a no-confidence vote?

You need at least 175 of Sweden’s 349 members of parliament for such a vote to be successful. The Sweden Democrats, the Moderates and the Christian Democrats have said they will vote against Löfven, so assuming that the Left Party does not backtrack once it comes to a vote, that means a majority of the members of parliament will back a no-confidence vote.

This would be unprecedented. The Swedish parliament has held 11 no-confidence votes in its history, and none of them have been successful. Löfven’s minority government and its ministers hold the record: they’ve faced and survived an impressive six such votes since the 2014 election. Former trade union leader Löfven has also proven adept at negotiating and avoiding conflict at the eleventh hour.

If Löfven loses, what happens then?

If the parliament does pass a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, the entire government must resign or call a snap election.

If the government resigns without calling a new election, it will be up to the speaker of parliament to start a talmansrunda, the political process where the speaker holds talks with all party leaders to work out who’s got the best chance at forming a government.

It is not unlikely that Löfven would win a talmansrunda. The Left Party wants to make a strong point on market rents, but it doesn’t really, really want to topple the government, just… shake it up a little bit. So they may well be willing to again throw their support behind Löfven in a new talmansrunda, as he is to them the lesser of two evils when faced with the choice of a centre-left or right-wing government.

Löfven himself told a press conference on Thursday that his party, too, is against market rents and that there is not such a bill on the table. He argued that a proposal about market rents does not currently exist, merely a green paper, a report based on a government inquiry.

This is correct in theory: the inquiry’s proposal is currently in the very early stages of a potential legislative process, the consultation round, which means feedback from affected organisations is being gathered. After that, a final version could be prepared (if the government chooses to), including possible changes, with the aim of putting a bill to parliament in early 2022. If passed, they would then enter law from July 1st, 2022. The government might argue that it has not yet taken a stance, and that sending a report out for consulation is the normal procedure even if they decide not to push ahead with it in the end; the Left Party might argue that nonetheless, this is the first step.

Löfven said that he would now consider his options if he loses the no-confidence vote on Monday, whether to call a new election, or to resign (which would trigger a talmansrunda). “Throwing Sweden into a political crisis in this difficult situation,” he said, referring to the pandemic, “is not responsible”.

Just one more question, what are the pros and cons of market rents?

Right! There’s an actual issue behind this political palaver, we forgot.

Sweden currently has fairly strict regulations on renting. The reasoning behind this is that it keeps housing fair and affordable. But rent caps have also meant fewer new rental homes get built, especially smaller ones, because these are less profitable for owners.

Together with a rising population, especially in cities, this has led to a major housing shortage. Queues for first-hand rental contract are often a decade or more, which means many people end up on second-hand contracts – a market which is also in theory regulated, but is so competitive that tenants often get over-charged anyway.

Market rents could stimulate the production of more housing and shorten housing queues, but critics such as the Left Party and the Swedish Tenants’ Union (Hyresgästföreningen) say it will make housing more unaffordable, worsen protections for tenants, and increase housing segregation. It could also incentivise landlords to terminate contracts with tenants if they can find someone who will pay more.

Löfven argued that the proposal only affects newbuilds, and would in practice affect less than one percent of Swedish apartments.

You can read a more in-depth explanation in The Local’s article HERE, and we also recommend this long-read article about the story of Sweden’s housing crisis. You can also tune in to our Sweden in Focus podcast on Saturday, where we’ll be talking about this topic.


Member comments

  1. What for? and during a pandemic? to gain what? huge assist to Sverige”demokraterna” that warmly thank the Left Party.

  2. No matter if you are right or left oriented, using political tricks, instead of working closely and negotiating, in times like now is simply stupid. I’m really sad that this way of politics came also to Sweden.

    1. Hi Anders,
      Thanks for sharing a comment with us. We are creating an article with readers’ views on the current situation. Are you happy for us to republish this in the article?
      Catherine

      1. Hej! Sure, it is important to constantly raise that politicians are to serve and help with running a country. Not fight in the name of their short term election interests.

  3. “The Left Party wants to make a strong point on market rents, but it doesn’t really, really want to topple the government, just… shake it up a little bit.”

    Just for the record, this is exactly what a bunch of Americans said about why they voted for Trump; they didn’t really like him, but they liked “government” less, so they just wanted to ‘shake it up a bit.’

    The Sweden Democrats *definitely* want topple this government and replace legislators with as many fascists as they can squeeze in.

    Sweden: be careful what you ask for – you might get it.

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