Sweden experienced an unprecedented episode in its history on Monday with the defeat of a prime minister for the first time as a result of a motion of censure. Stefan Löfven accepted the disapproval of 181 of the 349 members of Parliament and plunged an entire government into the void due to an issue that, surprisingly, did not seem to be considered an explosive political crisis: the reform of rents.
The way in which the Social Democratic Executive is doomed to its end is also an example of how it has behaved since January 2019. In a minority, in league with Los Verdes, it has suffered from constant fragility and significant dependence on the two centrist groups that they facilitated the inauguration of the prime minister. The Left Party, which supported the formation of that cabinet with its neutrality, has been now the promoter of his crash. Dissatisfied with the government’s departure from the rents pact, he promoted a motion of censure to which yesterday the arch of the right, Conservatives, Social Democrats and Sweden Democrats (this formation of the extreme right) joined. In the last 45 years the Executive has faced at least six deep crises – the three most important due to the debate on nuclear energy and the remaining two due to the freezing of salaries and pensions – and a dozen motions against ministers – normally, no effect – but this is the first in which the head of government is ‘expelled’.
Löfven now has a dizzying week, in which he must decide whether to call early elections or resign his post and leaves the way for the President of Parliament to start the classic round of parties in search of a new majority. The solution will possibly be known before Thursday or Friday, when a meeting of government leaders in the EU is called. If there were elections, they would be the first anticipated since 1958. Of course, the new legislature would be short. At the end of 2022 there are general elections called and early elections cannot overlap above these.
The end of stability
In reality, the prime minister’s disapproval is a missile to the apparent Swedish stability and, by extension, to the peaceful image of the little noisy Nordic politics, little prone to eruptions abroad, but run by powerful currents of underground magma. It should be remembered that the Government of the Netherlands has also been immersed in its own crisis since April 1 when its Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, was able to overcome a motion of censure ‘in extremis’, but not a lack of credibility that undermines the confidence of the rest of the formations when it comes to weaving alliances.
In both Sweden and the Netherlands, the role of the extreme right is significant, whose soil has expanded in recent electoral events in a trend that has not other countries are foreign of Europe. His representation has been key in Sweden, where Löfven has been shown the exit door by six deputies apart. In the Netherlands, the extreme right holds 28 of the 150 seats in Parliament; an influence that would be reduced in another type of Chamber, but not in the Dutch one, extraordinarily fragmented into seventeen formations.
The trigger for the collapse of the Executive lies in his proposal to liberalize rents in new homes in Sweden. Until now, the incomes in the country are agreed between the group of owners and tenants And any change to that pact – signed in January 2019 and which was part of the package of commitments to facilitate the inauguration of the prime minister – had the rejection of the Party of the Left, which has finally carried its decision to the motion. Some analysts already saw the Swedish conflict as an example of the “risk of absolutisms”, coming from one extreme or another.
Some analysts glimpsed in the defeat yesterday of the Swedish Government a change in the trend in the uses of politics with respect to the conventional and bipartisan balance of a few years ago. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has taken its toll on the extensive fragmentation of Parliament after it was known, in essence, that he lied in a conflict with a deputy. Renewing the confidence of seventeen parties, or at least a majority that grant him sufficient endorsement, is a very difficult task for this politician, scourge of Spain and Italy during the design of the EU economic recovery plan to face the crisis of the pandemic.
Something similar seems to happen with Löfven, when ideologies or coalitions take precedence over compromises. The media attribute to him having had an excess of confidence that the Party of the Left would end up assuming by force of facts the initiative of the Executive to liberalize rents in new homes. It was either accept it or end up in Parliament presenting a motion that would be seconded by the entire right. What in the end happened.
Criticism of the prime minister has also come from within the Democratic ranks. For his detractors, his disapproval is a consequence of having underestimated the warnings of the formation led by Nooshi Dadgostar, which until 1990 had the name of the Party of the Left-Communists. On Thursday the government sent a minister and other senior officials to speak with their leaders as if it were a mid-level meeting. And he did not delve into the dialogue to reach a solution this weekend, when the motion was already scheduled. Dadgostar assured parliamentarians yesterday that censorship was not presented “lightly.” “When no one else wants to contribute to the solution, we are done,” he said to make it clear that it was his last resort in the face of the Executive’s refusal to reverse the reform.
Löfven’s disapproval opens a period of uncertainty in Swedish politics that may even reach the Council of the EU. The options are to call elections or to let the Speaker of Parliament open inter-party consultations. Löfven himself would have one way left to try to get back to the starting square: call elections and present himself as a Social Democratic candidate. The Left Party, paradoxes of politics, has already announced that it could support him.