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UPDATE: Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to resign

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced on Sunday that he will step down as party leader this autumn, a year ahead of Sweden’s next election.

UPDATE: Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to resign
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven giving a speech on August 22nd. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Former trade union chief Löfven took the reins of the Social Democrats in 2012 and led his party to two successful elections in 2014 and 2018. But a new leader will take over ahead of the 2022 election, Löfven said in a speech on Sunday.

He will step down at the party’s congress in November.

Löfven, 64, came into politics after heading up one of Sweden’s most powerful trade unions, IF Metall, following a career as a welder.

He is known for his negotiation skills, and he’s had ample opportunity to flex them during his tenure, but the party has been struggling in the polls.

Just months after taking power, his party failed to push its budget through, and Löfven called a snap election, but this was cancelled after crisis talks. In the next election in 2018, his party got its worst result in over a century, and it took four months of negotiations before a new government was put together.

Earlier this summer, he became Sweden’s first prime minister in history to lose a no-confidence vote, following a row over rent controls. However, the opposition was unable to form a viable coalition to take over, and so Löfven returned to the helm again, only two weeks later.

Löfven announced his resignation at his annual summer speech, this year held in Åkersberga near Stockholm.

“The decision has matured over time. I have been party chairman for ten years, prime minister for seven. These years have been amazing. But everything comes to an end. I want to give my successor the best of conditions,” he said.

Löfven has led a weak minority government together with the Greens Party for the past three years, struggling to find a workable coalition following the inconclusive elections of September 2018.

The announcement of his resignation came nonetheless as a surprise, as Löfven had previously indicated he wanted to lead the party in the next election campaign.

But Ewa Stenberg, political commentator at Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said it was a wise decision on his part.

“Lofven’s not a good election campaigner or debater, he’s not the leader the Social Democrats need in a tough election campaign where rhetoric is important,” she wrote.

“Against that background, it’s logical that he hands over to someone who’s better with words and who can spark enthusiasm.”

Woman as next PM?
It is not yet known who will succeed Löfven as party leader, though Stenberg and other political commentators speculated that Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson was a hot tip.

Andersson has held the finance portfolio for seven years, and has on occasion stood in for the prime minister.

Health Minister Lena Hallengren, who like Andersson enjoys relatively high ratings among the public, especially for her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, was also mentioned as a possible successor.

Despite being a longstanding champion of women’s rights and gender equality, Sweden, unlike its Nordic neighbours, has yet to have a woman prime minister.

Whoever is elected to succeed Löfven as party leader would have to be approved by parliament in order to take over as prime minister.

Since coming to power in 2014, Löfven has weathered the decline of social democracy in Europe, the rise of the far right and even the pandemic.

Member comments

  1. You can’t first say “Löfven […] led his party to two successful elections in 2014 and 2018” and then a few lines further down in the same article write “[…] in 2018, his party got its worst result in over a century, and it took four months of negotiations before a new government was put together.” The 2018 election was hardly “successful” but instead was a downright godawful disaster for both Löfven and his social-democrat party, and indeed for Sweden as a whole.

    The only thing Löfven has done in the last seven years is to sell Sweden down the river to the extremist 4-percent Miljöpartiet, and would not be in power at all if it wasn’t for the Centre and Liberal parties’ betrayal of their own electorate.

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains how Sweden's parliamentary committees work – and the role the Sweden Democrats will play in them.

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

Hej,

The speaker of parliament has given Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderates and the likely next prime minister of Sweden, October 12th as a deadline to conclude his government negotiations.

If Kristersson comes up with a viable proposal for a ruling coalition, the speaker will put that proposal to parliament within four days. Chances are Sweden will have its new right-wing government by mid-October.

What will that government look like? Most likely, it will consist of at least the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. Rumours have it Kristersson is hoping to bring the Liberals into the governmental fold, and it is unlikely that the far-right Sweden Democrats will be part of the government.

But anyone who thinks the latter means they will be left on the sidelines is mistaken. They will have demanded significant concessions in order to support Kristersson’s government (and especially to make way for the Liberals) from parliament, and judging from recent news, they got them.

In a joint press release last week, the right wing – the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats – said they had reached a deal on how to share responsibility for their parliamentary committees.

There are 15 committees in the Swedish parliament, seats on which are held by members of parliament, with larger parties getting more seats as well as more high-ranking roles such as chair and deputy chair.

The right wing is after this election entitled to 16 chair and deputy chair roles, and the Sweden Democrats will get half of those, the parties agreed. The key thing that many political pundits were keeping an eye on was which committees, as that tells us a lot about how far they got in their negotiations with the other right-wing parties. The answer: far.

The Sweden Democrats will get to chair the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour Market, and Industry and Trade Committees – all heavyweight committees. 

Their most high-profile appointment is Richard Jomshof, one of the most senior Sweden Democrats who in the run-up to the election gave an anti-Islam speech (not the first time). He will chair the Justice Committee.

The Moderates will chair the Finance and Social Insurance Committees (plus the EU Committee), the Christian Democrats will chair the Health and Welfare Committee, and the Liberals will chair the Education Committee.

On the other side, the left-wing parties will get to chair the Defence, Taxation, Constitution, Civil Affairs, Transport and Communications, Environment and Agriculture, and Cultural Affairs Committees.

So what exactly do the parliamentary committees do, and how much influence will the Sweden Democrats now have over legislation?

The votes of every member of the committees count equally (there are at least 15 members on every committee, representing the various parties from left to right), and the chair gets the final vote if there’s a tie. He or she also has influence over the committee’s agenda and over how meetings are directed, with the position also bringing prestige.

All government bills and proposals by members of parliament first go through one of the committees before they can be put to the main chamber for a vote. The committee adopts a position on the proposal and although the final decision rests with the 349 members of the main chamber, they usually vote for the committee’s position since the make-up of their members represent the parties in parliament.

Although chair positions give them a procedural advantage, the Sweden Democrats won’t have unlimited power over their committees, since as I said, the other parties have seats too and their votes count equally.

The main benefit for the Sweden Democrats is rather the soft power it gives them. The chair is the face of the parliamentary committee, and these senior roles will force the other parties to take them seriously.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that they’ll have enough seats on each committee that they will have a key kingmaker role where they can side either with the government or the opposition – giving them fairly significant negotiating power when it comes to future legislation.

In other news, the Swedish parliament last week re-elected the popular Andreas Norlén as speaker, it’s been taking much longer than usual to get a work permit (here’s why) and foreigners are calling for the Migration Agency to issue special visas to allow those affected by renewal delays to leave Sweden and return, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has stopped leaking gas, and households in Sweden are starting to feel the economic squeeze.

In the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, host Paul O’Mahony is joined by Handelsbanken chief economist Johan Löf, as well as The Local’s Becky Waterton, Richard Orange and James Savage.

Many thanks to everyone who’s got in touch lately with your thoughts and feedback about Sweden Elects. I’m happy it’s useful to you. If you have any questions about Swedish politics, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Emma

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. 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.

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