Löfven Does Deal with Right, Cancels Snap Elections

The Swedish prime minister saves his government by agreeing to carry out the opposition’s budget.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a Christmas speech in Stockholm, December 20
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven gives a Christmas speech in Stockholm, December 20 (Socialdemokraterna/Anders Löwdin)

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven did a deal with opposition parties on Saturday to keep his government in office and stave off snap elections that were otherwise due in March.

“Sweden has a tradition of solving difficult questions,” the prime minister said. “I am happy we have reached a deal that means that Sweden can be governed.”

Under the agreement, Löfven’s Social Democrats, who rule in coalition with the Greens, will largely carry out the spending plans of the conservative and liberal Alliance parties.

Neither the two ruling parties nor the four parties in the Alliance have a majority in parliament. The nationalist Sweden Democrats hold the balance of power but they are shunned by the mainstream parties because of their anti-immigration views.

The Sweden Democrats threatened to bring down the government in early December when they joined the Alliance in a budget vote.

Löfven, who won election in September promising to reverse many of the economic and social policy changes the right had made during the preceding eight years, announced his intention to resign and call snap elections rather than carry out the opposition’s spending plans.

Under Saturday’s deal, he will carry out those plans next year. But he will be able to start making changes in the spring.

The Alliance, in turn, promised to abstain from voting against the government’s budgets from spring onward.

As a result, the ruling left-wing parties will not be able to tinker with income taxes for at least a year but can raise employer contributions — money that could be used to finance labor reforms or higher spending on schools.

The Sweden Democrats, whose ability to hold either bloc hostage suddenly melted away on Saturday, were exasperated. Deputy party leader Mattias Karlsson told Svenska Dagbladet it was “startling and regrettable” the other parties had withdrawn their promise to call elections. He was especially critical of the Alliance, saying it was “remarkable” it had apparently promised not to get any of its policies through.

There was criticism from within the Alliance as well. The Moderate Party’s Carl-Johan Sonesson from Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, wondered in an interview with the Sydsvenskan newspaper what exactly the right had gained by giving up the chance to influence economic policy during the remainder of Löfven’s government.

The Dagens Nyheter‘s political commentator, Ewa Stenberg, argued the Alliance parties had nevertheless gained more because Löfven failed in his attempt to break them up.

The prime minister had tried to persuade the more centrist parties in the opposition bloc to prop up his government. They refused.

While many Swedish media hailed the left-right pact to deny the Sweden Democrats a position of power, the Göteborgs-Posten was less enthusiastic about the whole process in its editorial.

Although it welcomed the cancellation of elections, if only because they were unlikely to significantly change the balance of power in parliament, the newspaper from Sweden’s second city also pointed out Löfven could have avoided weeks of political turmoil if his minority government had accepted the Alliance’s budget proposal in the first place.

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