The nine lives of Lofven Stefan Lofven becomes the first Swedish PM to lose a no-confidence vote. But the Social Democrat will get a last chance to fend off the “bourgeois bloc”.
Housing is a sensitive political issue everywhere, but in Sweden it is especially touchy. Over two-thirds of the country’s municipalities say they have housing shortages. Authorities estimated the total shortfall at 160,000 units in 2018, in a country with 5m dwellings. The price of a villa in Stockholm has risen 19% in the past year. All the country’s rental units, whether public or private, are subject to rent control, making everyone’s rent a matter of government policy.
So it is not surprising that when Stefan Lofven became the first Swedish prime minister to lose a no-confidence vote this week, it was over housing policy. Mr Lofven, a Social Democrat, is a canny survivor who stayed in power after an indecisive election in 2018 by forging a minority coalition with Sweden’s small Green Party. To do so he reached a confidence-and-supply deal with a smorgasbord of other outfits: the right-leaning and mostly rural Centre Party, the laisser-faire Liberals and the socialist Left Party. On June 21st the Left Party defected, joining three parties on the right to vote Mr Lofven’s cabinet out.
The trigger was a government-appointed commission’s proposal for housing reforms, which included free-market rents on new private developments. The Left’s leader, Nooshi Dadgostar, saw this as a dangerous step towards deregulating the entire market. But liberalising rent on new construction had been part of Mr Lofven’s deal with the Liberals and the Centre Party. He offered to send the issue back for negotiations between the tenants’ union and Sweden’s two landlord groups.
That satisfied neither Ms Dadgostar, who wants the reforms to be binned, nor the Liberals, who said in the future they would prefer a government led by the right. The final blow to Mr Lofven was a matter of strange bedfellows. Ms Dadgostar, a rising star of the left who is the child of Iranian refugees, voted for a no-confidence motion filed by the Sweden Democrats, a populist anti-immigrant party.
The Sweden Democrats pose a problem for the “bourgeois” parties, as the mainstream right is known in Sweden. Because of their roots in the neo-Nazi movement and their penchant for racism and sexual-harassment scandals, other parties shun them. But over the past decade they have become the third-biggest political force, drawing about 20% support in recent polls. Jimmie Akesson, their leader, has professionalised the party, confident that eventually it will be included in government.
The Moderates, Sweden’s main centre-right party, have 70 of the 349 seats in the Riksdag. Their natural partners, the Christian Democrats, have 22. Even if they win back the Liberals and Centre Party, they would lack the seats to form a government without the Sweden Democrats’ backing. Ulf Kristersson, the Moderates’ leader, has hinted at a confidence-and-supply deal with the Sweden Democrats, though he draws the line at including them in a coalition. After the vote, Mr Kristersson said pointedly that he was speaking with “all party leaders”.
Mr Lofven has until June 28th to cobble together a new government. The Left wants him to stay on, but with a new deal that scraps the housing reforms. The Centre Party have become kingmakers: if they remain on board, along with one of the two independent mps, Mr Lofven will have the bare minimum of 175 seats. If not, Mr Kristersson will get his chance. Should he fail too, there will be an early election in the autumn. Either way, it will be complicated. Sweden’s politics have fragmented, like those of many European countries. Coalition-building has grown ever trickier. But Mr Lofven may manage it yet.
The Economist, June 26th, 2021