Anders Wiklund / AP
STOCKHOLM – Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister since 2014, lost a vote of confidence in parliament on Monday, making him the first Swedish leader ever to lose such a motion.
The development creates new political uncertainty in the Scandinavian nation after the last election in 2018 created a deadlocked parliament and months of negotiations to create a government.
During a timeline dictated by the Swedish constitution, the Prime Minister now has one week to decide whether to call a new election or ask the Speaker of Parliament to find a new government. Lofven said he wants to “take some time” but “not necessarily all week” to decide on his next step.
That government, a Social Democratic-Green coalition, is a minority government that has relied on votes from the small left party to pass laws.
The no-confidence motion in Lofven’s government was called by the nationalist Sweden Democrats, but it succeeded in the end because the Left Party had withdrawn its support from the government over proposed legislation to deal with a housing shortage. The legislators voted 181-109 against Lofven, with 51 abstentions.
The Left Party said that it had lost confidence in Lofven over a proposal to abolish rent control on newly built properties.
Sweden has strict rules for rents that aim to maintain affordable prices in larger cities. However, this makes property developers less willing to invest in building new homes for the rental market. People who want to rent a home can wait years for contracts and buying properties is becoming increasingly difficult among high house prices.
However, the Left Party fears that deregulation of the rental market will lead to rapid price increases and deeper segregation between rich and poor.
After the vote, Lofven, 63, said that “no matter what happens, I and my party will be responsible for leading the country.”
“My focus has and will always be to do the best for Sweden,” he added.
During the weekend, Lofven held last-minute meetings in order to secure a majority in parliament for its proposed rent reforms. On Sunday, he tried to mitigate the reforms by inviting landlords and tenant organizations for talks.
Left-wing leader Nooshi Dadgostar, however, said the party stood firm in its decision to oppose Lofven and said his effort was “a political show”.
“We have done something that is perceived as unusual in politics … kept our word,” she said.
The Left Party’s initiative was supported by three other parties, including the Sweden Democrats, a right-wing populist party that the ordinary parties generally refuse to cooperate with because they consider it extreme.
The Sweden Democrats made huge gains in a 2018 vote to 17.6% – a show attributed to a backlash against large-scale migration. In 2015, Sweden, with a population of 10 million, took in a record 163,000 refugees – the highest per capita in any European country. The Populist Party became Sweden’s third largest party in the 2014 vote.
The 2018 election yielded a hung parliament, with parties on the left and the center-right bloc securing about 40% of the vote each. In January 2019, Swedish legislators approved Lofven’s minority government and ended a four-month political stalemate.