ABOARD THE NEWSPAPER BUSER — After becoming Sweden’s first female Prime Minister and making history with a little-known political outsider as her party’s leader, Stefan Lofven announced his resignation Tuesday morning after less than a year in the job.
Just days ago, Lofven scored victory in a narrow parliamentary race by ousting the leader of his center-left center-right coalition partner, the Liberals. As he took office in October 2016, the newly crowned PM was acclaimed as Sweden’s answer to a new wave of democratic populism.
But less than three months later, just days after winning re-election, Lofven said he would resign from his post after the country experienced a significant political fallout over the sexual harassment allegations against a defense minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as a subsequent postponement of planned legislation.
The December session of parliament was then suspended for five days as Sweden’s three-party coalition tried to find solutions to its leadership difficulties, which brought the fragmented parliament to the verge of political collapse.
“We’ve had enough debates,” said Lofven, who heads the Social Democratic Party in a single-party government. “This is not the way to govern,” he said in a press conference.
In power for just 1.5 years, he said that this was the best moment for him to step down.
Lofven is widely credited with modernizing the Swedish Democratic Party — once known as the “social fascists” — which on Sunday saw a historic electoral increase, winning 43 percent of the vote and pushing the two mainstream parties to the brink of collapse. The nation of 10 million is still reeling from the SDP’s decision to recruit Alexander Stubb as its leader.
“Stefan Lofven’s departure marks the end of a pro-European, pro-EU government,” Samuel Nelson, an associate professor at the University of Sheffield, wrote on Twitter.
Lofven’s departure is a massive blow to the centre-left camp, but it was expected — and it was made earlier than most pundits had predicted.
Several surveys in October predicted the SDP would lose seats in parliament due to internal fighting after the party’s internal competition heated up. On election day, Lofven won the race for prime minister with 47.2 percent of the vote, claiming victory with center-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats — the country’s third-largest party — on just 27.7 percent. This month’s parliamentary election result brought more challenges to the coalition, though, as Stubb’s rise to leadership was an alienating experience for many voters.
Although SDP leader Lofven’s term was widely seen as a turning point for the party, it did not result in an electoral victory. The Social Democrats won 41.5 percent of the vote this week.
“The result will be a crisis for [the Social Democrats],” Olof Bergkvist, a researcher at Lund University, said in an interview. “There will now be a lot of disappointment.”
“Stefan Lofven gained a lot of credibility from becoming PM. That must be taken into account,” Bertil Karlsson, a political scientist at the Department of Mass Communication and Politics at Gothenburg University, said.
The opposition center-right bloc, Sweden Democrats, also saw a rise in voters from 32.7 percent in 2013 to 42.1 percent this year.
Last year’s elections also forced the country’s two largest political forces to form a coalition with the Liberal Party, the party founded by Hilde Lööf, who in 1990 became the first woman to lead a parliamentary party in the world. Two years ago, Lööf’s party lost its parliamentary veto on legislation, putting much of Sweden’s political system on the same page for the first time in decades.
Nevertheless, the Left Party, which has often voiced criticism against Lööf’s image as a “democrat,” remains absent from the government. It remains to be seen if the current cabinet stays intact for the remainder of the four-year term.