Thursday, 4 December 2014

Right-wing extremists oust Swedish government

When the King and Queen of Sweden return from their state visit to France on Thursday night they may perhaps wonder if their kingdom has turned into a banana republic in their absence. At least that may seem to be the case after the right-wing extremist party the Sweden Democrats on Wednesday ousted the government which took office two months ago and declared their intention to defeat any government or budget which does not comply with the Sweden Democrats' anti-immigration policy, thus threatening to make Sweden ungovernable. The Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, will now dissolve the Parliament that was elected in mid-September and an extraordinary election will be held on 22 March next year, something which has not happened since 1958.
The crisis erupted when the Sweden Democrats, who hold the parliamentary balance, broke with the parliamentary custom that a party lays down its votes after its own budget proposal has been defeated in the first round. Rather than doing this the Sweden Democrats voted in favour of the budget proposal of the four centre-right parties who formed the previous government, but lost power in the election in September, which was thereby passed instead of the one proposed by the current government, a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party.
The government are obviously unwilling to govern Sweden according to the opposition's budget and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was therefore left with three choices: to send the budget back to the financial committee to try to achieve a compromise with the centre-right, to resign and let the Speaker of Parliament try to find someone capable of forming a new cabinet or dissolving Parliament. After it became clear on Tuesday evening that the Sweden Democrats would indeed use their power to defeat the government Löfven invited the leaders of the four centre-right parties for talks to try to reach an agreement across the divide between the two blocks, but all such attempts were rejected by the centre-right, who despite insisting that they would not give the extremists any influence seem to relish this opportunity to humiliate the Social Democrats, who has traditionally been viewed as the natural party of stable government.
This does however seem like a dangerous game to play, as the centre-right seem to have no plans for how to be able to form a cabinet or pass a budget if the extraordinary election leaves them as the largest parliamentary block but the Sweden Democrats still hold the parliamentary balance. After losing their parliamentary majority in the 2010 election the centre-right governed for four years with the tacit support of the Sweden Democrats, but this opportunity has now been blocked by the extremists' vow to defeat any government and budget that will not do their anti-immigration bidding.
Parliament will be formally dissolved on 29 December, but will continue to sit until the date of the extraordinary election on 22 March. In the meantime Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will carry on, but with the opposition's budget having been passed stalemate will reign in Swedish politics until the end of March.


  1. Thank you for this explanation. I have a few questions: Is the present government required by law to govern according the opposition's budget until the new elections? Will they be able to get anything done at all? Also, can the Speaker intervene, or only upon invitation by the Prime Minister? Thanks.

    1. Yes, the budget that a parliamentary majority approved last week is now the law of the land, so any government is bound to govern according to it throughout 2015 (smaller changes may however be made in the spring).

      This means that the present government will not get much done, if anything at all, as they are understandably very reluctant to carry out policies decided by the former government, which was rejected by the voters in September. One of the many things that puzzle me is that the extra election will only take place at the end of March (why not the end of January?), which means that things will more or less stand still until after Easter, when the new Parliament opens.

      As far as I understand the Speaker cannot intervene. He is the one who appoints a Prime Minister and who tries to find someone capable of and willing to form a government when a new one is needed, but he can neither fire the Prime Minister nor dissolve Parliament, so as long as Stefan Löfven does not resign there is really nothing the Speaker can do.

      There is however one thing that may happen and which would change the situation dramatically. As Parliament cannot be dissolved until three months after it was opened it has not been officially dissolved yet, but will be so on 29 December. Until then there is the possibility that the opposition may remove Stefan Löfven's cabinet through a vote of no confidence. The conservative newspaper Svenska Dagbladet has urged the opposition to do so, and the leader of the Centre Party, Annie Lööf, has said that she finds it wrong to dissolve Parliament and that a new government should rather be formed from the current Parliament, which suggests that she may be open to removing Löfven by a vote of no confidence.

      There are however two drawbacks about this. For one thing it would mean that the centre-right would form a government with the active support of the Sweden Democrats (rather than governing with their passive support as during the past four years), which may be a stigma they are keen on avoiding. The other problem, which Svenska Dagbladet and Lööf do not seem to care about, is that it would leave the Swedes with the government they rejected in September's election, which would obviously be a democratic problem.


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