On the morning of 21 June, the Swedish parliament voted that they had no confidence in the sitting prime minister Stefan Löfven. This is the first time in history a Swedish prime minister and his government has fallen due to a vote of no-confidence. The spark for the vote was discussions about market-rents. Sweden has regulated rent prices but might change to market-rents. Market-rent often leads to higher rents and make it harder for renters to collectively negotiate. According to the Swedish Renters Association, 7 out of 10 of the Swedish population are against market-rents. The reason it has been suggested is that there is a housing shortage in Sweden and market-rents are believed to incentivize companies to build new housing. The regulation of renting prices started after the second world war and is considered a part of the Swedish political concept ‘folkhemmet’ (the people’s home). Folkhemmet describes Sweden and its population as similar to a family, where everyone is supported but also contributes. Within this concept, being able to afford a home was considered a right. Folkhemmet is sometimes described as a middle approach to the capitalism-socialism nexus and is generally believed to be a big reason for Sweden’s progression between 1930-1970 when Sweden was ruled by the Social Democrats. This the party of the Prime minister Löfven, who is being called out for dismantling his owns party’s legacy.
The last Swedish election was held in September 2018, but it took over 100 days to actually form a government. Sweden is usually governed by a coalition. No party wins a qualified majority in the election, instead, parties form a coalition and the biggest coalition has the power to rule. In 2018 the two blocks, both had very small margins for forming a government. In the end, four parties, the Social Democrats, the Center Party, the Green Party, and the Liberal Party, signed what is called the January agreement and formed a government with Stefan Löfven as prime minister. This coalition is somewhat unusual and one reason the parities cooperated was to minimize the influence of the pro-nationalistic party the Swedish Democrats, as a possible swing-vote party. But the January agreement also limited the influence of the Left Party. The Center Party used the January agreement to minimize the influence of the Left Party, but even with this agreement, the government was still in minority. This means that they needed the Left Party to ‘let them pass’. The Left Party agreed to not block the forming of the government after Löfven promised them more influence on topics outside the January agreement. The Left Party also announced that if the government made policies on two points (20 and 44) in the January agreement, they would initiate a vote of no-confidence of the government. When the government this year started the process of creating a rapport (and possible foundation for a policy) for market rents (point 44), the Left Party made clear they would call a vote of no-confidence. However, it was not the Left Party but the Swedish Democrats that put in a motion for a vote of no-confidence. The Swedish political commentator, Elisabeth Marmorstein, told SVT that the Left Party probably did not expect this. The Swedish Democrats have wanted to call a no-confidence vote for a long time and took the opportunity to vote down the government. The party leader, Jimmy Åkersson, has said that the party is against market-rents but also had many other reasons why the party wanted this vote. The vote took place, 21 June, and 185 votes were cast against the sitting government. During the no-confidence vote, several of the parties to the right gave speeches that made clear that were open to cooperation with the Swedish democrats. Cooperation with the party has before been blocked due to their politics being based on strong pro-nationalism, anti-immigration, and conservatism. The party has been accused of being racist and misogynistic. It has also been involved in several scandals, included the infamous ‘Iron pipe” clip where one of the party’s top politicians harassed and threatened a colored man with an iron pipe. The Swedish population is polarized on the question of whether to cooperate with the party or to actively block their influence in the parliament.
Some are very critical of the move made by the Left Party, which destabilizes the government during a pandemic. Others consider the Left Party’s actions as understandable. Sometimes the Left Party’s agreement in January is called “the doormat agreement” or “the humiliation agreement”. Both sides have missed opportunities to deal with the issue before it led to a government crisis. Some claim that the issue of points 22 and 44 was a ticking bomb for Löfven’s government, but that does not mean it was unavoidable. The parties knew this problem would come and could have acted based on this. Most likely Löfven has no interest in introducing market-rents. Löfven could not straight-up break the January agreement, then he would lose the support he needed to govern, but he could have “stalled” the issue so that no concreate policy would have been adopted before next year’s election. The market-rents are bound to be a campaign issue. The Left Party on the other hand could have pushed for negotiation and waited to bring up the no-confident vote until an actual policy was drafted and on the table.
On the 28th of June, Löfven decided to not declare re-election and instead open for speaker rounds. The speaker gave the leader of the opposition party the Moderates a chance to form a government, but he was unsuccessful. Löfven is now hoping he will be given the chance to form a new government. Despite Löfven’s government being voted down, a new government formed again will likely look the same and probably with Löfven as prime minister. Even the Left party has said that they are open to a new government lead by Löfven. But the question is now how will Löfven be able to form a new government if he breaks the January agreement that was needed to form the old government.
The last couple of weeks of political tension in Sweden is not unexpected. The old party block has started to dissolve over the last couple of elections. Immigration and dealing with the party of the Swedish Democrats have been a point of conflict between the parties as well as the population as large. The Swedish Democrats getting so many votes meant that they could potentially tip the balance for either block’s favor and gain influence for their politics, which made most parties initially decide to cooperate over block borders. However, as we have seen over the last couple of weeks more parties on the right are expressing a will to cooperate with the Swedish Democrats. The Swedish political landscape is changing and in the center of it are ideas of what Sweden is and what it means to be Swedish. Both sides of the debate claim that they are protecting Sweden and standing up for its value, regardless of if they want a more open or close Sweden.
This situation shows a rift in Swedish politics that has previously been characterized by a high level of will to cooperate. There have been chances for negotiations, debates, and conversations that were not taken. This is a failure that serval parties bear the responsibility for. All parties are pointing the finger at someone else and there is a battle going on about whose narrative will win. The back and forth she said is unlikely to strengthen the voter’s confidence in these politicians. All parties might lose in some way, the population is generally not in favor of market-rents but also have the aftermath of the last elections fresh in their mind. If the speaker round does no result in a government, an election is still on the table. Most people do not want an extra election, especially during a pandemic. This seems to be the one thing we agree on. Only 29% of Swedish people think that a new election is a good idea, according to a recent poll made by SVT/NOVUS. The VD for NOVUS, Torbjörn Sjöström, reportedly said: “ In a way, one could say that the voters are more composed than the politicians right now”.
The ‘death’ of block and party politics has been called for many years now. In this changing climate, the parties need to make themselves heard before the upcoming (ordinary) election next year. It seems that many of the parties have tried to use this question as a way to promote their parties, but several seems to have misjudged the situation. The Left Party probably thought they would have more time to agree with a non-confident vote or actual election. The Social Democrats might have expected the Liberal Party and the Center Party to be more willing to renegotiate the January deal. However, the Liberal Party has refused negotiation after the no-confidence vote and has expressed confidence in a potential election which means they and are counting on the latest polls that have them at around 2 percent being incorrect. It seems that politicians have misjudged several things lately, but perhaps most importantly they have misjudged the Swedish population’s patience. Considering the risk of the delta variant of the coronavirus creating a fourth wave, Sweden needs parties that are able to leave their campaigning for next year and buckle down and try to solve this crisis happening now.