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POLITICS

How Stefan Löfven lost his hold on the Swedish parliament

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has weathered the decline of social democracy in Europe, the rise of the far right and even the Covid-19 pandemic, but he finally tripped up on Monday, losing a historic vote of no confidence in Sweden's parliament.

How Stefan Löfven lost his hold on the Swedish parliament
Stefan Löfven in the Riksdag. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The 63-year-old Löfven, a former welder and union leader with the square build and nose of a boxer, guided the Swedish left back to power in 2014, and then hung on by moving his party closer to the centre-right after the 2018 elections.

A master of consensus for some, a dull and visionless party man for others, he finally fell out with the Left Party propping up his government, becoming the first Swedish government leader to be defeated by a no confidence vote.

“Sweden is in a difficult political situation, a very difficult one,” Löfven told a press conference following his defeat.

He has a week to choose between elections or resignation. It may however be too early to count out the man who emerged victorious from elections deemed lost in 2018, and it’s possible his negotiating skills could forge a new majority.

Born in Stockholm in 1957, poverty forced his single mother to give him up when he was 10 months old to a foster family in Sollefteå, 500 kilometres (310 miles) north of the capital, where his foster father was a factory worker.

He became a welder and spent 15 years in a defence factory, and head of the metal workers’ union from 2006 to 2012.

‘Houdini’

While the traditional left struggled in Europe — only six social democratic or socialist heads of government remain in the 27-member EU — Löfven managed to stay on top, even though he confused supporters by moving to the right, earning a reputation as a “right-wing socialist”.

“Stefan Löfven could go down in history for his inventiveness and willingness for sacrifices to keep the Social Democrats in power,” political commentator Ewa Stenberg wrote in Dagens Nyheter newspaper at the weekend.

“The Prime Minister has survived many crises,” Stenberg said, adding that he now faces his greatest test so far.

“He now needs to do the political equivalent of what escape artist Harry Houdini did over a hundred years ago,” she said, stressing several seemingly impossible political knots had to be untied.

While controversial, the decision to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic with mainly non-coercive measures was not what weakened him.

In fact, the Swedish strategy, promoted by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, boosted his ratings in opinion polls, even as the death toll rose to over 14,000 in the country of 10.3 million people, a far worse toll than in Nordic neighbours.

Challenging the Swedish model

The political crisis erupted on Thursday when the Left Party, which has propped up the government in parliament, said it was ready to support a motion of no confidence against the prime minister, even if it meant mixing votes with those of the right-wing parties and the far-right Sweden Democrats.

The reason was a preliminary plan to reform rent controls, potentially freeing landlords to set rents for new apartments.

On the left, the proposal is considered at odds with the Swedish social model and a threat to tenants’ rights.

While having become accustomed to threats from the Left Party, which until now have never materialised, Löfven was trapped as he also felt bound by a deal signed with two centre-left parties, the Centre Party and the Liberals.

The deal included proposals for liberal market reforms which irked the Left Party, and secured power for the Social Democrats but it was also seen as a move to the right.

And it reminded people of another perceived lurch to the right in November 2015, when the government abruptly closed the doors to most immigrants after Sweden had already taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees, notably from Syria.

By Marc Preel/AFP

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Sweden’s right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The four parties backing Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Sunday announced that they had agreed to keep the current Speaker, Andreas Norlén in place, when the role is put to a vote as parliament opens on Monday.

Sweden's right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The parties won a three-seat majority over the bloc led by the incumbent Social Democrats in Sweden’s general election on September 11th, and are currently in the middle of negotiating how they will form Sweden’s next government. 

Sweden’s parliament meets at 11am for the official installation of the 349 MPs for this mandate period. The votes for the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers are the first item on the agenda, after which the parties each select their parliamentary leaders and then vote on who should chair each of the parliamentary committees. 

READ ALSO: What happens next as parliament reopens? 

In a joint press release announcing the decision, the parties also agreed that the Sweden Democrats would be given eight of the 16 chairmanships the bloc will have of parliamentary committees in the next parliament, and that MPs for all four parties would back Julia Kronlid, the Sweden Democrats’ Second Deputy Leader, as the second deputy Speaker, serving under Norlén. 

In the press release, the parties said that Norlén had over the last four years shown that he has “the necessary personal qualities and qualifications which the role requires”. 

The decision to retain Norlén, who presided over the 134 days of talks and parliamentary votes that led to the January Agreement in 2019, was praised by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson. 

Norlén, she said in a statement, had “managed his responsibilities well over the past four years and been a good representative of Sweden’s Riksdag.” 

The decision to appoint Kronlid was opposed by both the Left Party and the Green Party, who said that she supported tightening abortion legislation, and did not believe in evolution.

The Green Party’s joint leader Märta Stenevi said that her party “did not have confidence in Julia Kronlid”, pointing to an interview she gave in 2014 when she said she did not believe that humans were descended from apes.

The party has proposed its finance spokesperson Janine Alm Ericson as a rival candidate. 

The Left Party said it was planning to vote for the Centre Party’s candidate for the post second deputy Speaker in the hope of blocking Kronlid as a candidate.

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