Sweden’s opposition prepares power shift after premier quits

Published Thu, Sep 15, 2022 · 10:40 PM

SWEDISH right-wing opposition parties are stepping up negotiations on forming a new government, after Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tendered her resignation on Thursday (Sep 15).

The Social Democrat leader has conceded defeat in Sunday’s election, and Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson will now try to forge an agreement with 3 parties that backed his candidacy. They include the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, who are now the country’s second-largest political force.

The main obstacle facing Kristersson as he seeks to take over Andersson’s job is to forge a common platform and square differences between the Sweden Democrats –who mainly vowed to clamp down on a gang-fuelled crime wave - and the much smaller Liberals, which may seek to minimise the nationalists’ influence.

It took more than 4 months to form the government after the previous election, in 2018. This time, the process is expected to be more expedient, partly because it comes at a time when the country is facing a raft of challenges and is preparing to take over the European Union’s rotating 6-month presidency.

“All these parties can probably agree on most of the main issues facing the country now - the energy crisis, the bid to join Nato, more funding to the military, crime,” said Fredrik Erixon, director of the Brussels-based European Centre for International Political Economy. “But policies on immigration will be far more difficult as the Sweden Democrats would like to see far more restrictions than the other parties want, and their policy on immigrant repatriation is completely off charts for Kristersson and his centrist colleagues.”

The shift in power in the biggest Nordic country is taking place against a backdrop of fears of a hard landing, soaring inflation rates and concerns over adequate power supplies as the northern hemisphere heads into heating season and supplies of energy from Russia have been severely curtailed. A likely recession portends difficult talks over tax cuts and reduced social benefits, where the nationalists align more closely with the Social Democrats than their Moderate partners, Erixon said.

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Sweden will take the leadership role in the European Union in January, chairing meetings and setting the agenda just as unity among the member states is likely to be put to test as countries come face to face with the reality of inadequate power supplies.

Speaking to reporters in Parliament on Thursday, Andersson said she aims to “ensure a smooth transition.” She also indicated more explicitly than before that she’s open to cooperating with the Moderates.

“I have told the Parliament’s speaker that if the Moderates should change their minds and want to work with me instead of the Sweden Democrats, my door is open to Ulf Kristersson,” Andersson said. “We are prepared to work with all parties except the Sweden Democrats.”

Support for Andersson’s party increased from the 2018 election, but it wasn’t enough to secure another term due to waning backing for 2 of 3 smaller parties who were on her side. The leader of 1 of them, the Centre Party’s Annie Loof, announced her resignation on Thursday.

The Sweden Democrats emerged as the election’s biggest winner after vowing to “make Sweden safe again,” by introducing longer prison terms and adopting measures to further slash immigration, including repatriation incentives. The opposition has also pledged to start the process of building new nuclear plants.

While the Sweden Democrats garnered more votes than the Kristersson’s Moderates, he is the top candidate for the premiership as a government led by nationalist leader Jimmie Akesson would be opposed by a majority in Parliament.

Opposition parties have thus far been tight-lipped on their discussions, but Moderate Party secretary Gunnar Strommer said on Wednesday that talks initiated immediately after the election will now be accelerated, in order to form “a stable government with the ability to take action.”

Parliament Speaker Andreas Norlen, tasked with steering formal government consultations, said his talks with party leaders will begin after the weekend as that’s when the election authority plans to complete the final vote count. BLOOMBERG

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