STOCKHOLM, (AFP):- Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven resigned on Monday, one week after he lost a vote of no confidence, leaving it up to the speaker of parliament to begin the search for a replacement.
After becoming the first Swedish government leader to be defeated by a no confidence vote, Lofven could have either resigned or called a snap election.
He told a press conference that a snap election was “not what is best for Sweden”, pointing to the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the fact that the country’s next general election — which would go ahead regardless — is just year away.
“With that starting point, I have requested the speaker to relieve me as prime minister,” Lofven said.
The Social Democrat leader — a master of consensus for some, a dull and visionless party man for others — had seven days after the confidence vote to try to secure a parliamentary majority.
The 63-year-old Lofven, 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.
He finally fell out with the Left Party propping up his government, leading his downfall.
While the confidence motion was filed by the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), it came after the Left Party said it was planning such a motion to protest a plan to ease rent controls.
– Rent row –
On the left, the proposal for “market rents” — which would potentially allow landlords to freely set rents for new apartments — is seen as being at odds with the Swedish social model and a threat to tenants’ rights.
The conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats were quick to back the motion, which was passed by 181 MPs in the 349-seat parliament.
Last-ditch efforts to appease the Left Party, which holds 27 seats, failed.
After 11 unsuccessful no confidence votes in modern Swedish political history, Lofven, who has previously distinguished himself by his ability to survive political crises, thus ended up setting an unwanted precedent.
It will now be up to parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlen to open negotiations with parties to find a new prime minister.
Last time, the process took four months, but Norlen has already signalled that he will not let it take as long this time around.
The Swedish system demands that a prime minister is tolerated by parliament — they can secure office so long as a majority does not vote against them.
Should the process fail, the country could still end up heading to the polls early.
And even if a snap election is called, Swedes will still vote in the scheduled general election in September 2022 — creating the possibility of two elections in less than a year.
According to an Ipsos opinion poll published Tuesday, the right and far-right would come out on top in a general election, with a very slim parliamentary majority.
– Moderate says he’s ready –
In announcing his resignation, Lofven criticised the move to topple his government without having a majority secured to replace him.
“They voted the government out without themselves having an alternative for government,” he told reporters, adding that should he be given the opportunity, he was still open to returning as prime minister.
“If the speaker proposes, I’m ready to be tested again in the parliament,” Lofven said.
Another candidate for the post is Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson, who said Monday he was ready for the role, noting that the situation in parliament was still complicated.
“If I’m asked I’ll say that the math is what it is, the mandates are unchanged since the last election, but if there is a basis I’ll of course be ready,” Kristersson told a press conference.
A Kristersson government would need the support of SD, who have 62 seats in parliament, which party leader Jimmie Akesson said on social media would not be possible without them “getting an influence over policies that is in proportion to our size.”
It would also require at least the tacit support of the Centre Party, which has signalled it would not support any government beholden to SD.
Lofven’s government will stay on temporarily to handle routine tasks until a new administration is formed.
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