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ANALYSIS: What’s next for Sweden after Löfven’s sudden exit?

ANALYSIS: What's next for Sweden after Löfven's sudden exit?
Stefan Löfven, centre, and in a white jacket, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, who has been mentioned as a potential successor. Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/TT
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will step down in November, leaving the future uncertain for whoever takes over the reins. The Local’s columnist Lisa Bjurwald sorts out the knowns from the unknowns and looks at what’s next for Sweden.

Sweden’s long-time Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has, surprisingly, announced his exit as party leader. This despite repeated assurances about leading next year’s general election campaign. The secret of his forthcoming exit was apparently guarded so closely that some of his own ministers were caught off-guard at the announcement on Sunday.

Löfven has become known for his ability to survive crisis after crisis, but it seems the Social Democratic party has at last deemed the burden of seven years in power – and the humiliating loss of a no-confidence vote this summer – too heavy to lead them to an electoral win.

Why now?

Giving a new leader enough time to establish him or herself before the start of next years election campaign is the foremost practical reason for Löfven to announce his exit at this point in time. Even if the soon-to-be ex-PM himself feels he would have the stamina to run a successful campaign, the risk of having it tainted by repeated, long-running criticisms of his leadership is high. Another face at the helm would give the Social Democrats a better chance of successfully focusing on promises of the future rather than failures of the past.

By leaving before the campaign kicks off, Löfven will dodge responsibility for several serious problems during his time in power – most notably the rise in violent gun crime and the high pandemic death toll. This doesn’t flatter a well-functioning democracy built on principles of holding power to account and it’s an issue that political scientists are likely to bring up during the election.

The odds are currently favouring Löfven’s “crown princess” Magdalena Andersson as successor. The question is whether her (generally spoken of in positive terms) achievements as Sweden’s Minister for Finance would outshine the fact that she’s been part of the government for as long as Löfven himself, or if his shadow would extend to her. This would mean that she too could be held accountable for gang crime spilling over onto the streets, a failed pandemic response, the dissolution and flop of Löfven’s so-called January Agreement, the endless government crises since, and so on.

Sweden is an exceptionally stable country, especially from a global perspective, and the political chaos of the past few years has made Swedish voters uneasy. Within the party, there is great unease too about the Social Democrats’ many compromises and their perceived turn to the right. Magdalena Andersson is a political animal, strategic rather than ideologically driven. There are fears internally that she would take the compromising even further instead of steering the party back towards the centre-left.

What happens now?

The Social Democrats will automatically score many points with voters if they pick a female party leader – Sweden’s first female Prime Minister – especially if that person ends up doing well in the election. But a Social Democratic win in the national election next autumn seems unlikely. The once-dominant party achieved their worst results in modern history in the general election of 2018: 28 percent of the general vote. In the August 2021 polls, the figures have sunk even further, down to 24 percent. And in two decades, support from first-time voters has dropped from 30 to 20 percent.

Stefan Löfven has been an impressive leader in some ways, once dubbed the Harry Houdini of European politics” by Politico for his ability to get out of tight corners. But what the party needs now is a fighter, someone with visions, energy, and an oppositional mindset to turn the tide and bring the disastrous figures back up. After almost a decade on the party chairman post, 64-year-old Löfven was clearly not thought to be up for the task ahead. On a side note, the contrast with the Left Partys new female leader, 36-year-old Nooshi Dadgostarwho brought down the PM in this summers no-confidence vote and is roping in young voters in droves – is striking.

Stefan Löfven may have succeeded in his party’s long-standing goal of breaking up the right’s tight union, leaving the Moderate Party, the Liberals et al in a right mess. But let’s not forget the huge and sudden crack in the relationship between the Social Democrats and their former allies in the Left Party, as well as the high tensions between the Social Democrats and their coalition partners in the Green Party. Thus, Löfven’s successor needs to be a fighter as well as a healer, or at least a highly skilled diplomat. Best of luck to him/her…

Lisa Bjurwald is a Swedish journalist and author covering current affairs, culture and politics since the mid-1990s. Her latest work BB-krisen, on the Swedish maternity care crisis, was dubbed Best reportage book of 2019 by Aftonbladet daily newspaper. She is also an external columnist for The Local – read her columns here.


Member comments

  1. What is the actual source for your information? Such an assertion needs to be backed by facts maybe and I wonder if there is actual data to prove what you claim. At the last election, about 87% of eligible voters turned out to vote, a very high proportion compared to many other countries in Europe. With about 10.2m citizens in 2018, of which 1.9m were foreign born you can see some data from SCB here (https://www.scb.se/en/finding-statistics/statistics-by-subject-area/population/population-composition/population-statistics/pong/tables-and-graphs/yearly-statistics–the-whole-country/summary-of-population-statistics/ ) I think it is right to challenge your sweeping claims about vote share by ethnicity for the S party.

    The same publishers of Swedish statistics, also has voter breakdown by ethnicity to some degree and says that in the 2018 national elections voter turnout of foreign born is about 74% whereas Swedish born is 90%. Of the foreign born, 57% are citizens and if you take the average age distribution to be 20% under the voting age (17) then you get about 888,500 who were entitled to vote meaning 657,500 (74% of 888,500) probably voted.

    If you then take your higher figure of 70% foreign born voters voting for the S party then the 2018 vote share of 1,830,386 actual votes cast for them gives them a theoretical count of 1,281,438 foreign votes! That means that the whole population of foreign born citizens entitled to vote walked to the voting station and ALL voted for the S party, plus about 624,000 ‘phantom voters’ or maybe fake ballots?? Not possible.

    I am not a fan of mass immigration which is foisted on a population and followed by cynical attempts to ‘integrate’ which only serve to push people into sink estates and segregated communities. The resultant negative societal impacts you cite hit the headlines daily and scare the heebie jeebies out of many residents. The fact that justice is rarely served and legislation fails to make integration work better (as it probably does to a better degree in the UK and especially in Plymouth) is also a poor show for Sweden and a failure of their ‘democracy’.

    I live here, yes it is a country that can be accused of hiding from the reality of what is happening on the streets and how it affects real people. Perhaps a shameful political correctness drives that. But, the fact is that foreign born citizens are a large share of all the population in all western countries and integration is critical to making it work well and when it works then it becomes a really nice place to be. It is not helped by hiding from reality, nor however from pumping up hysterical fake news and false ‘facts’ which your post attempts to achieve.

    Immigration and integration are not easy for any country, nor any political persuasion to deal with effectively. It is not going away however and if Swedish people want to vote out the S party then it probably won’t happen by use of fake news, false facts and lies intended to stir up resentment for the political class who are currently in charge as the alternative voting options seem to be light on policies which would improve matters. Still, they have a choice to make in 2022! Happy days ahead???

  2. The social democrats depend on immigrant votes,they constituted about 60-70%of all the people who voted for them in the last election and that has created a total mess of Swedish politics and the government of the country. Result , crime on a scale and severity we have never seen before in this land.
    I lived for 20 years in Plymouth UK roughly the size of Malmö and the difference is staggering.
    Happy days ahead for us all and future generations…….,,

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