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Four scenarios: Who is most likely to be Sweden’s next Prime Minister?

With talks between Sweden's political parties underway and the parliamentary speaker aiming for a new government in place by the end of July, there are a few possible scenarios on the cards.

Four scenarios: Who is most likely to be Sweden's next Prime Minister?
Stefan Löfven (S) and Annie Lööf (C) at a press conference. Photo: Lars Schröder / TT

After losing a vote of no confidence on June 21st, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven declared that he would be resigning on Monday morning. This triggered new ’rounds’ of talks between party leaders and the parliamentary speaker, Andreas Norlén, who will try to assess what a government backed by the majority of parliament would look like.

The first round was completed on Tuesday, with Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson the first to be given the task of trying to form a government.

The parliamentary seats are divided the same way they were after the election in 2018, but with allegiances shifting somewhat, we can expect whatever new government comes out of the process to look slightly different.

So who are the possible candidates for prime minister?

Ulf Kristersson

Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT 

Ulf Kristersson leads the Moderates, the second largest party in the Riksdag. He’s the de facto leader of the opposition and also a possible candidate for Prime Minister. This position saw him named by the parliamentary speaker as the first sonderingsperson, meaning he has three days to try to form a viable government.

The Liberal’s new leader Nyamko Sabuni has said that instead of continuing to prop up the centre-left as a support party, they will pursue a conservative government in collaboration with the Moderates and Christian Democrats, with the support of the Sweden Democrats. These parties (minus the Sweden Democrats) formerly worked together with the Centre Party in a bloc known as the Alliance.

These four right-of-centre parties only have 174 mandates in Parliament, however should only one MP chose to go against their party and vote for the right bloc, they could get the needed majority. The most likely scenario for this to happen would be an MP from the Centre Party going against their party line; in 2018, the party’s MP Helena Lindahl voted against her party line to oppose Stefan Löfven.

But the Centre are not the only party whose inner divisions may play a role.

“One important thing to consider is that the Liberals are internally divided and it is not certain that all Liberals will vote according to Nyamko Sabuni in another vote,” said Jenny Madestam, a lecturer specialising in Swedish party leadership at Södertörn University

The Liberal Party’s national committee voted in favour of campaigning as part of a right-wing alliance in the 2022 general election, even if it meant involving the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in negotiations, but the vote was far from unanimous. The second vice-chair of the party was one of the strongest internal critics, announcing after that vote that he would not put himself up for election in 2022.

Political scientist Johan Hellström, who researches government formations at Umeå University, told SVT he believed a Moderate-led government is only likely if a new election takes place which gives the right-wing bloc a majority.

Stefan Löfven

Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT 

Despite losing the vote of no confidence, Social Democrat leader Löfven remains a likely leader of a new government. His current government is a coalition with the Green Party, which came to power with support from the Left Party as well as the Centre and Liberal Parties to the right of the political spectrum, who in turn negotiated influence on 73 policy points in the so-called January Agreement.

The Left Party have stated that Löfven is their preferred candidate for PM, but that the new budget he forms must exclude market rents, an issue included in the January Agreement and which initially sparked the no-confidence vote. 

The Liberals have declined invitations to cooperate on a revised January Agreement, preferring a right-wing government. But even without the Liberals, the Social Democrats, Green Party, Centre Party and Left Party have enough mandates to pass a wafer thin majority in parliament, their seats adding up to 175, the exact number needed out of 349 to gain a one-seat majority.

“Mathematically, Löfven has the upper hand, but it also depends on whether he works out what he couldn’t before the vote; a majority support for a budget,” Madestam said.

For this to take place, an agreement would need to be reached between the Centre Party and the Left Party who, despite some progress in the last week, are reluctant to work together. The Centre Party has agreed to drop the demand for market rents but replace this with other demands on lower taxes for low- to middle-income earners.

“The Left Party does not want [right-of-centre Moderate Party leader] Ulf Kristersson as the prime minister and no party wishes to be the one who could not find a solution and cause a snap election. These things combined might make the Left Party accept a budget with the Social Democrats, Green Party, and Centre Party which they do not get any influence over,” Madestam told The Local.

Annie Lööf

Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT / Kod 10090

Despite the Centre Party only winning 8.6 percent of the 2018 vote, Lööf is often considered one of Sweden’s more powerful political players, due to her popularity and close relationships on both sides of the aisle. 

“If the locked state in the parliament remains, it is possible that we would see [Lööf] as Prime Minister with a middle government including the Centre Party, Green Party and Liberals with a so called ‘jumping majority’ (hoppande majoritet) which works through support from different sides for different policies. This would mean not approving a full budget from the start, which will be more uncertain but not impossible as we have seen it before in Sweden’s political history,” Madestam said.

Medestam also considers the possibility of Lööf heading a centre-left government.

“Another option would be that Annie Lööf demands the Prime Minister post from Stefan Löfven in exchange for cooperating with the Left Party,” Madestam said.

Hellström also believes this is a likely outcome, telling SVT: “[Lööf] is number two on my list of likely prime ministerial candidates.”

In 2018 during the four-month long speaker rounds, Lööf was given the task to try to form a government after both Löfven and Kristersson had been unsuccessful in their first attempts, however she could not get support from either one. 

Her chances might look different this time as this government would only be in power for about a year until the next regular election, which will take place in September 2022. A similar solution to a political crisis was found in 1978: after the then-Prime Minister and Centre Party leader resigned, the leader of their coalition partner the People’s Party (the former name for the Liberals) took power for a year before the next election.

Furthermore, Löfven has put heavy emphasis on wanting to avoid a snap election during Covid-19, and might be more pliable now. Speaking to public broadcaster SVT after announcing his resignation, the Social Democrat said: “I think the country needs to get out of an uncertain political situation as fast as possible”.

Snap election

Even though Löfven chose to avoid a snap election on Monday, it does not exclude the possibility. The parliamentary speaker has a maximum of four attempts to form a government and if none of these pass, there will be a snap election regardless.

“I think a snap election is quite far away at this time. No party wants a snap election and the voters as a whole do not want one,” Madestam said.

The past few weeks of uncertainty have already seen some concessions on both sides.

“A snap election now would mean a failing grade for our elected representation,” Madestam said.

Member comments

  1. “[the Liberals] will pursue a conservative government in collaboration with the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats. These parties formerly worked together with the Centre Party in a bloc known as the Alliance.”

    SD were not part of the Alliance, they were still out in the cold at that time.

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For members


Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.