Sweden’s government on brink ahead of no-confidence vote

Sweden’s government is teetering on the brink of collapse after a majority of MPs in parliament on Thursday said they would back a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

The vote, to be held on Monday, could lead to snap elections or a caretaker government if it goes against Lofven and his minority centre-left coalition.

All three rightwing opposition parties said they would back the vote, sparked by anger from the ex-communist Left party at plans to scrap rent controls for new flats. The four parties together have a majority in parliament.

The high drama — which comes as Sweden struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic as the Delta variant first discovered in India spreads — underscores how fragmented politics in the Scandinavian country has become.

On Thursday Lofven blamed the Left for the vote and said it was irresponsible “to throw Sweden into a political crisis in the current situation”.

The rise of the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats has shaken up the traditional left-right politics that dominated Sweden for decades. Initially pariahs of the political system, Sweden Democrats now appear to be creating an anti-immigration bloc with three centre-right parties against the centre-left group headed by Lofven’s Social Democrats and its junior partner, the Greens.

But opinion polls suggest that both sides could struggle to form a coherent coalition with a majority in parliament, suggesting there could be difficult negotiations ahead.

Lofven, a former trade unionist, is widely seen as one of Sweden’s most ineffective recent prime ministers, although he has held on to power several times against the odds.

Even if Lofven loses the no-confidence vote, there is a chance he could continue as prime minister as head of a caretaker administration. He could also call snap elections or simply resign and leave the task of forming a new government to the speaker parliament.

Monday’s vote was triggered by the Sweden Democrats, who exploited the Left’s disquiet over the ending of rental controls. “If we have a chance to replace this damaging government, we will take it,” said Henrik Vinge, parliamentary leader of the Sweden Democrats.

Sweden’s government has come in for criticism from the country’s Covid commission and a separate parliamentary committee for its handling of the pandemic in which Stockholm refused to impose a formal lockdown. Sweden has suffered far higher deaths and hospitalisations than neighbouring Norway, Finland or Denmark but has done better than many EU countries that had lockdowns.

Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderates and likely prime minister should the opposition come to power, laid out the battleground for any snap election. He wrote on Facebook on Thursday: “This government has failed with the really big issues of our times: crime, unemployment, and integration.”

Gangland shootings and bombings have increased sharply in recent years, leading to growing criticism from the Sweden Democrats and the rest of the right about how the country has taken in more immigrants than most EU countries and struggled to integrate them.

Lofven, who has been in charge since 2014, is already the only Swedish prime minister to lose a confidence vote, a move in 2018 that started prolonged government negotiations that ended with him continuing in the role.

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