STOCKHOLM (AP) — Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister since 2014, lost a confidence vote in parliament on Monday amid a housing crisis and skyrocketing real estate prices, making him the first Swedish government leader ever to lose such a motion.
The vote was initiated by the small Left Party, an ally of the minority government that is not in the two-party center-left coalition but had provided votes to pass the government's legislation. The vote was 181-109 in favor of a motion that confidence had been lost in Lofven, and there were 51 abstentions.
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 disincentives property developers from building new homes for the rental market. People needing to rent a home can find themselves waiting for 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.
It is unclear what will happen next in Sweden. Under the Swedish Constitution, the prime minister has one week to decide whether to call an early election or ask the parliament speaker to find a new government.
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. "I want to take some time, not necessarily the whole week, but the time required for us to get a carefully selected line. This is very serious for Sweden."
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 the 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 make huge gains in an election in September 2018 to become the country’s third-largest party — a showing that was attributed to a backlash against largescale 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.
That election produced a hung parliament, with the left-leaning side and the center-right bloc securing about 40 percent of the vote each, leaving neither with a majority.
In January 2019, Swedish lawmakers approved Lofven’s minority government, ending a four-month political deadlock when he won support from two center-right parties to form a minority government.
In 2014, Lofven brought the Social Democrats, a center-left party, back to power in Sweden after having been in the opposition since 2006.
Olsen contributed from Copenhagen.