Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a confidence vote in parliament, toppling his minority coalition and plunging the largest Nordic economy into political chaos.
Lofven says he’ll now talk to his allies in parliament to figure out whether he can still patch together a viable coalition. Failing that, he may call a snap election, he said after losing Monday’s vote. If Swedes are forced to head to the polls early, it would be the first time since 1958. If Lofven resigns, the speaker of parliament will ask the biggest parties to try to form a new government until scheduled elections take place next year.
The krona was little changed against the euro after the vote, with most analysts pointing to Sweden’s stable budget, low debt and top credit ratings as enduring metrics that will probably be unaffected by the political turmoil.
The prime minister’s fate seemed sealed after he refused to back down from a deregulation plan aimed at Sweden’s rental housing market. The gambit by Lofven, a Social Democrat who’s presided over a fragile minority coalition since inconclusive elections in 2018, angered the Left Party, who said Lofven had crossed a red line.
The Left then won support from a group of conservative and nationalist parties, eager to eject their political foe. On Monday, 181 of the 349 lawmakers in Sweden’s parliament voted against Lofven.
Lofven’s ouster is the latest sign that Swedish politics have been fundamentally altered since the rise of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. The party has just under a fifth of the seats in the country’s parliament, preventing either bloc from reaching an outright majority. That reality has prompted parties to the right to agree to consider working with the Sweden Democrats, once deemed too xenophobic to be embraced by the mainstream.
Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister, was quick to note the historic nature of Lofven’s defenestration, as he becomes the first head of government in the country’s history to lose office through a no-confidence vote.
“For the first time ever in a PM is defeated in a vote of confidence. Basically the formulae that governed the country since 2018 collapsed. It’s not easy to see how a new election can be avoided,” Bildt tweeted.
Sweden’s political instability has yet to spill over to its economy, according to Johanna Jeansson of Bloomberg Economics. “Confidence in Sweden’s economic outlook is stronger than confidence for the government,” she said on Monday.
“We expect the ongoing recovery to continue as the pandemic eases its grip at home and in Swedish export markets,” Jeansson said. “Weak governance is more of a risk in the very long-term, dampening the prospects for needed structural reform of the housing and labor market.”
But Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson voiced her concerns on Monday, and pointed to the need for stability as Sweden navigates its way out of a pandemic in which it lost many more lives than its neighbors in the Nordic region.
“A political crisis is not good in this economic situation,” she told reporters in Stockholm. “We are just beginning an economic recovery and a lot of businesses are considering whether to hire, whether to invest and there is a risk that those decisions will be postponed as a consequence of the political uncertainty.”
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Lofven, a 63-year-old former union leader and welder, has spent the past 2 1/2 years in a coalition that looked shaky from the start. His Social Democrats governed together with the Greens, and could only stay in power as long as they were backed by the Left Party, the Center Party and the Liberals, who see eye to eye on few key pieces of legislation.
Until today, the prime minister had survived seemingly intractable conflicts, and emerged victorious from previous no-confidence motions brought against him. His removal from office now sets the stage for an uncertain political future in Sweden. If the country holds an early election, it’s far from clear that the next government will be much more stable.
“It took four months to form a government after the last election and forming a new one will not be an easy task,” said Daniel Bergvall, an economist at SEB. “An extra election will most probably not create a clear outcome either.”
—With assistance from Anton Wilen and Love Liman.