Swedish Prime Minister loses confidence vote, sparking uncertainty

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister since 2014, lost a confidence vote 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 produce a government.

Under 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 parliament speaker to find a new government. Lofven said he wants “to take some time” though “not necessarily the whole 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government was called by the nationalist Sweden Democrats party, but it ultimately succeeded because the Left Party had withdrawn its support from the government over proposed legislation to tackle a housing shortage. Lawmakers voted 181-109 against Lofven, with 51 abstentions.

READ MORE: Sweden is latest country to suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine

The Left Party said it lost confidence in Lofven over a proposal to abolish rent controls on newly built properties.

Sweden has strict regulations on rents aimed at maintaining affordable prices in larger cities. However, this makes property developers less willing to invest in building new homes for the rental market. People wanting to rent a home can wait years for a contract and buying property is increasingly hard amid soaring home prices.

However, the Left Party fears that deregulating the rental market will lead to rapid price increases and deeper segregation between rich and poor.

After the vote, Lofven, 63, said that “regardless of what happens, I and my party will be available to shoulder the responsibility for leading the country.”

“My focus has and will always be to do the best for Sweden,” he added.

Over the weekend, Lofven held last-minute meetings seeking to secure a majority in parliament for his proposed rent reforms. On Sunday, he sought to soften the reforms by inviting landlords and tenant organizations for talks.

However, Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said the party was standing by 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 which the mainstream 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 showing 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 of any European country. The populist party became Sweden’s third-largest party in the 2014 vote.

The 2018 election produced a hung parliament, with parties on the left and the center-right bloc securing about 40% of the vote each. In January 2019, Swedish lawmakers approved Lofven’s minority government, ending a four-month political deadlock.

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