Anders Wiklund / AP
STOCKHOLM – Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s Social Democratic Prime Minister since 2014, lost a vote of confidence in parliament on Monday amid a housing crisis and soaring house prices, making him the first Swedish government leader to lose such a motion.
The vote was initiated by the Small Left Party, an ally of the minority government that is not part of the bipartisan center-left coalition but had provided votes to pass government legislation. The vote was 181-109 in favor of a motion that confidence had been lost in Lofven, and there were 51 abstentions.
The Left Party said it had lost confidence in Lofven over a proposal to abolish rent controls on newly built properties.
Sweden has strict rent regulations aimed at keeping prices affordable in large cities. However, this discourages real estate developers from building new homes for the rental market. People who need to rent a house can find themselves waiting years for a contract, and buying a property is increasingly difficult in the midst of soaring house prices.
However, the Left Party fears that deregulation of the rental market could lead to rapid price increases and deeper segregation between rich and poor.
We don’t know what will happen next in Sweden. Under the Swedish constitution, the prime minister has one week to decide whether to call a snap election or ask the speaker of parliament to find a new government.
After the vote, Lofven, 63, said that “whatever happens, my party and I will be available to take on the responsibility of running the country”.
“My goal has been and always will be to do my best for Sweden,” he added. “I want to take the time, not necessarily the whole week, but the time it takes for us to get a carefully selected line. This is very serious for Sweden.”
Over the weekend, Lofven held last-minute meetings in an attempt to secure a majority in parliament for his proposed rent reform. On Sunday, he sought to ease the reforms by inviting landlords and tenant organizations for talks.
However, the leader of the Left Party, Nooshi Dadgostar, said the party stood by its decision to oppose Lofven and said his effort was “a political spectacle”.
“We did something that is seen as unusual in politics … we kept our word,” she said.
The Left Party’s initiative was supported by the other three parties, including the Swedish Democrats, a right-wing populist party with which the dominant parties generally refuse to cooperate because they see it as extreme.
Sweden’s Democrats made huge gains in the September 2018 election to become the country’s third party – a performance attributed to a backlash against large-scale migration. In 2015, Sweden, with a population of 10 million, hosted a record 163,000 refugees – the highest number per capita of any European country.
This election produced a parliament without a majority, with the left side and the center-right bloc obtaining around 40 percent of the vote each, leaving neither with the majority.
In January 2019, Swedish lawmakers approved Lofven’s minority government, ending a four-month political stalemate when it won the support of two center-right parties to form a minority government.
In 2014, Lofven returned the Social Democrats, a center-left party, to power in Sweden after being in opposition since 2006.