No confidence vote succeeds against Swedish government

The government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was ousted in a no confidence vote with 181 votes against it in the 349-seat Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, on 21 June. The prime minister has a week to decide whether to go to a snap election or resign to allow the speaker of parliament to facilitate the negotiation of a new government. According to Reuters, this makes Lofven “the first Swedish prime minister to be ousted by a no-confidence motion put forward by the opposition.” If there is a snap election, it would be the first since 1958.

The government is a minority government of the Social Democrats and Greens, with a policy-based agreement to allow it to govern signed with the Centre and Liberal parties. It also has had tacit support from the Left Party, but the agreement with the two center-right parties calls for the Left to have no policy influence. This is where things got delicate, as a policy of easing rent controls prompted the Left to vote against the government. Reuters notes:

“Rental reform is part of a platform agreed between the government and the Centre and Liberal parties and is not a policy the Social Democratic party is keen on.”

The Left leader, Nooshi Dadgostar, says that, despite voting with the right against the government, it would never help “a right-wing nationalist government” take power. The mention of “nationalist” refers to the Sweden Democrats, the third largest party, whose gains in the 2018 election greatly complicated building governments and parliamentary support. See the comment thread on the 2018 election for an interesting discussion of Sweden’s fraying ideological blocs and the challenges of building cross-bloc support. It was the Sweden Democrats who proposed the no-confidence motion.

An election would not otherwise be due till September, 2022, and recent opinion polls do not suggest that an early election held in the very near future would produce a result much different from that of 2018. So maybe the parties in the current government, its support parties, and the Left will somehow come to an agreement to reconstitute an arrangement, minus the specific policy measure that ruptured parliament’s fragile tolerance for this government.

17 thoughts on “No confidence vote succeeds against Swedish government

  1. Do anyone know if grand coalitions are common in Sweden? Cause I’ve alway thought that would be much more simple for the Social Democrats to govern with the big center-right parties (the Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats) despite having to give up on some policies. Also, great text, Shugart!

      • Yes, Portugal is the only other case I am aware of in which an early election does not reset the electoral calendar. (In Portugal, does this depend on what point in the term a snap election occurs?)

      • This does not appear to be the law any longer in Portugal. The 2002 election was on 17 March; parliament was dissolved by presidential prerogative on 30 November 2004 (despite the prime minister holding an absolute majority of the assembly), snap elections were held on 20 February 2005, less than 3 years after the previous elections, yet the following elections were on 20 February 2005.

      • Regarding Portugal on the term length after a dissolution, it may be a provision applicable only to a dissolution ordered by the president. And I am not even sure whether any discretion to dissolve survived the reduction of presidential powers in the 1982 revision. If it did not, then the 1979 case mentioned by Manuel may be the only such example in Portugal.

  2. And the 2009 elections were followed by snap elections in 2011, but the following election was in 2015.

  3. I am curious about the government formation process in Sweden. I understand that uner the system of “negative parliamentarism” the government can stay in power as long as a majority (rather than a plurality) pf the parliament voets it out in a no confidence or in rejecting the budget. But how does the government come into being in the first place? Who gets to call winners and losers after elections? And if a proposed government fails its first parliamentary test, doest it stay in power until another is having a try, even if that means after another elections, or does the previous government stays in power as a caretake until a new one succeeds its first parliamentary test?

    • The government gets into power on simple majority. The incumbent PM is entitled to stay in office following an election unless 175 members vote against them; if they lose this initial confidence vote or if they resign following an election, the Speaker serves as formateur and proposes a candidate, who must win a confidence vote with a simple majority of those voting.

      Löfven won the confidence vote following the 2018 elections because the Alliance parties agreed to abstain rather than rely on the Sweden Democrats to form a government.

      Sweden is perhaps unique among constitutional monarchies in that the monarch does not play even a formal role in the appointment of the PM. It is the Riksdag that formally elects the PM.

      • Just a minor technicality, but I would call the Speaker of the Riksdag in this role as an informateur. That is, one who carries out a process of discovery aimed at identifying a formateur, defined as the person who actually will be tasked with leading the process of assembling a government.

      • Well, an ‘informateur’ informs someone about coalition possibilities (at least, that’s the Dutch and Belgian usage). The chairman of the Riksdag doesn’t inform anyone, he actually appoints a formateur himself, fulfiling the role usually taken by the head of state.

      • “unless 175 members vote against them” -> that has happened with Löfven after the 2018 elections. So, in my opinion, 2021 is not the first time a Swedish PM is ousted by a no-confidence motion.

  4. Update: Lofven has been given the formal opportunity to try to form a new government, the leader of the Moderate Party Ulf Kristersson having determined he could not do so (Reuters).

    • Interesting, on the failed attempt of Kristersson: “Sweden’s centre-right Moderates offered centrists a raft of policies favoured by their mainly rural voters on Wednesday, in a bid to secure support for leader Ulf Kristersson’s bid to become prime minister.” Despite the offers of pork (regional airports, more rural police, and a northern rail link), “Four parties, who combined have the 175 votes need to reject him as premier, have already said they will vote against him – primarily over his decision to cooperate with the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats” (Reuters).

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