Swedish government could fall over rent controls row

Prime minister under fire for a proposal to drop rent controls in newly built apartments

Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has agreed to a government inquiry into whether private landlords should be allowed to freely set rents for new apartments. Photograph: Janerik Henriksson/ AFP via Getty

Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has agreed to a government inquiry into whether private landlords should be allowed to freely set rents for new apartments. Photograph: Janerik Henriksson/ AFP via Getty

 

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven is fighting for his political life this weekend as an unusual alliance between Sweden’s far-right and hard left could oust him in a confidence motion next Monday.

The Social Democrat leader heads a minority government with the Green Party and has come under fire for a proposal to drop rent controls for tenants in newly built apartments.

When the Left Party vowed to table a vote of no-confidence on Thursday, the far-right opposition Sweden Democrats (SD) seized the initiative – with later declarations of support from other opposition parties, the Moderates and Christian Democrats.

“There is now a majority in parliament that wants to dismiss the prime minister,” said Henrik Vinge, SD floor leader. “If we have a chance to replace this damaging government, we will take it.”

He predicted the vote would see the Löfven administration collapse a year ahead of the next scheduled general election.

The current government took office only in 2019 after months of political wrangling following an election in 2018. It has several arrangements to secure a parliamentary majority.

To secure the support of the Centre Party, Mr Löfven agreed to a government inquiry into whether private landlords should be allowed to freely set rents for new apartments.

The Left Party, which he also courted for support, said its backing would last only as long as the government didn’t make good on its housing promise to the Centre Party.

Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar set Mr Löfven a deadline of this week to dismiss the proposal. When it expired, Ms Dadgostar said her party would push back against any changes to the already overheated housing market in cities across the Nordic country.

“Someone has to stand up for Sweden’s tenants,” she said at a press conference.

Responding in parliament, Mr Löfven said it was “irresponsible” to call for the vote based on a proposal that was not yet concrete. Quizzed about his future at a press conference on Friday, he added: “I keep to myself what conversations and contacts I have, but it is clear that we are working to prevent a crisis from arising.”

Early poll

As Sweden continues to struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic, including a death rate higher than its Nordic neighbours and the spreading Delta virus variant, it remains to be seen how great the appetite is for an early poll.

Opinion surveys show that Mr Löfven’s traditional centre-left camp would struggle to return to office. But the power options are far from certain for the SD, which is attempting to build an anti-immigrant coalition with more moderate right-wing parties.

Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, a likely prime minister in a centre-right alliance, wrote on Facebook that the Löfven government had “failed on the big issues of our time: crime, unemployment and integration”.

While Mr Löfven is widely seen as one of Sweden’s least-effective prime ministers, any centre-right alliance with the SD to oust him would shatter a taboo of post-war Swedish politics.