Watching closely: The Swedish political riddle

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has resigned from his post after a vote of no-confidence against his government passed on the 21st of June. Disagreements between the government and supporting party Vänsterpartiet (V) over market rent reforms led to an ultimatum against the government, which was also supported by opposition parties Sverigedemokraterna (SD), Kristdemokraterna (KD) and Moderaterna (M), eventually resulting in the vote of no-confidence easily passing with a majority of 181 to 109. Possessing only 116 out of 349 seats in Parliament, the current Socialdemokraterna (S) and Miljöpartiet (MP) coalition government is the weakest government in Swedish history, and therefore heavily relies on supporting parties V, Liberalerna (L) and Centerpartiet (C) to enact its policies, often leading to political disagreements between the socialist V and the centre-right L and C. 

On the 28th of June, Löfven officially resigned his post, leaving the issue of forming a new government to the Parliamentary speaker who has selected the leader of Moderaterna, Ulf Kristersson, to begin negotiations. Kristersson has since then given up trying to form a government due to a lack of support from C, with Löfven once again taking over negotiations. While the resignation of Löfven, therefore, means that Sweden is unlikely to see new elections anytime soon, Löfven still has a good chance of forming a new government with himself as PM. The Swedish parliamentary system operates on the concept of negative parliamentarism, meaning a new government does not need to have a majority in Parliament as long as there is not an explicit majority voting against the new government. With support currently at 175 seats for S-MP-V-C and 174 for SD-KD-M-L, the parliamentary situation at the moment slightly favours Löfven and the left-wing. However, the main issue remains the creation of a new government that will enjoy enough support to enact a new budget at the end of the year. Centerpartiet leader Annie Lööf has publicly said the party will not support a government led by either SD or V, which leaves few realistic outcomes for a new coalition government unless major concessions can be made.

The return of the S-MP government is the most likely outcome

The current government is therefore most likely to remain in power as without a snap election, the current S-MP-V-C constellation still retain their slight majority in Parliament. C have also recanted on their rent reform proposal which led to the vote of no-confidence, leaving the government with little immediate political issues. As of 06 July, Löfven has confirmed that he has found a parliamentary majority with this exact coalition, leading to a final confirmation vote on 07 July. Despite his likely confirmation as PM on 07 July, the main challenge, if Löfven is to remain PM going forward, would be finding a political compromise that would allow V and C to work together in the future. The annual budget negotiations for 2022 are set for late autumn and could potentially lead to a second political crisis and new elections if V and C are unable to find common ground in time. As Löfven has promised to resign again if budget negotiations break down in autumn, the current parliamentary deadlock would almost certainly lead to early elections. 

M-KD government the most likely alternative to the current government

Should a change in government occur, the most likely constellation would be a coalition government with M and KD at the helm, supported by the liberal L and nationalist SD. M is the largest opposition party in Sweden, earning some 24 percent of the overall vote in the 2018 election, all but guaranteeing that leader Ulf Kristersson would become PM in such a government. However, due to their recent failure to form a new government and their lack of an overall majority in Parliament, this constellation is unlikely, but still possible, should Löfven fail to be confirmed as PM on 07 July. The main issue for an M-KD government remains the fact that the controversial nationalist party SD would undoubtedly have a large amount of influence in this government, leading to more moderate parties such as C almost certainly voting against it. Kristersson would have to gain votes from other opposition parties or convince one of the two independent politicians currently in Parliament to support him before his government could be confirmed. Seeing as every political party outside M-KD-L has denounced the possibility of giving SD any influence in government, this is unlikely to happen, but on the other hand, Kristersson only needs a single member of Parliament to change their mind or be absent at the vote before his government can be confirmed. As such, the possibility of an M-KD government still cannot be ruled out, even after their previous failures. 

Other possible constellations 

Due to the large amount of parties represented in the Swedish Parliament, a number of alternative government constellations are possible in theory, however these offer little chance of occurring in reality. A left-wing S-V-MP government would find much common political ground but would with only 144 seats need support from another, more moderate party, potentially compromising their political goals. A right-wing alternative government consisting of M-KD-L-C would likewise be happy to be rid of the influence of nationalists SD but would need to draw many votes from across the aisle, which is highly unlikely. 

New elections are unlikely to happen but remain a possibility. 

As Löfven voluntarily resigned from his post as PM without scheduling a by-election, new elections are unlikely to happen for several reasons, however, should the Parliamentary speaker fail to a vote in a new government a total of four times in a row, a new by-election is automatically scheduled. This leaves new elections as a technical but distant possibility due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the unwillingness of M and S to enter into a new election with poor polling results and the already planned parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2022. 

The Editor: Christian Haulund

Christian Haulund is a second-year undergraduate student at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His research interests mainly lie within the realm of security in the Nordic and Baltic regions, but also extend to radical militant groups in Africa and the Middle East.

Leave a Reply