Rise and resignation in a day as Sweden’s first female PM is elected

Last Wednesday, 24 November, Magdalena Andersson was announced as Sweden’s first female Prime Minister, only to resign hours later.

Following a last-minute deal with the opposition Left party, the Social Democrat leader and finance minister briefly secured Sweden’s ultimate political job title. Though Andersson lacked a parliamentary majority, in fact facing 174 votes against compared to 117 in favour, 57 abstentions ensured her eventual success. Under Swedish law, the former Prime Minister had only needed a majority not to vote against the appointment.

Into her new job, Magdalena Andersson had brought ambitions for the approval of the Social-Democrat Green party coalition’s latest budget proposals. Conceived during her time as finance minister, a budget that required SEK 74 billion of spending included measures to speed up ‘climate transition’, improve the welfare system, and better national security. As Andersson put it: “we are now presenting a budget with aggressive reforms […]. Together, we will take Sweden forward after the pandemic.”

Yet within the day, the government’s new proposals were discarded by parliament in favour of amendments made by the centre-right opposition. These included increased spending on the justice system and cuts to petrol taxation- problematic for the government’s green party.

In what followed the coalition partner quit, Green co-leader Marta Stenevi stated “It is […] not the Green Party’s job in politics to implement a budget negotiated with the Sweden Democrats.” Then the leader of a severely weakened government, Andersson promptly followed. 

Cynically, the move could be perceived as a career-saving one. Constitutional conventions were alternatively cited as the Prime Minister of just a few hours stated: “I don’t want to lead a government whose legitimacy will be questioned.”

The Prime Minister perhaps faced an uphill struggle from the start, taking over from an exhausted predecessor Stefan Lofven. Andersson’s deal with the Left party, though necessary, proved fatal for the coalition’s budget proposals. With the deal, a balance tenuously maintained between the minority coalition partners, as well as with the external Left and Centre parties, collapsed.

In a statement before last Wednesday’s vote, Centre Party leader Annie Loof told reporters: “We cannot support a budget from a government which is moving far to the left.” Ultimately, the means of Anderson’s rise were also the means of her downfall.

Compared to the UK, female representation in Swedish politics is relatively good. The country can boast a parliament where 45% of its members are women, whilst in recent years government cabinets have reached 50%. The UK’s house of commons falls short at 34%, the house of lords at 28%, and the most female cabinet members a UK government has ever had- between 2006 and 2007- stood at 36%.

However, up until last Wednesday, Sweden was previously the only Scandinavian country not to have been led by a female PM. This status perhaps still stands to be corrected. Upon her appointment, Andersson had stated: “I know what this means for girls in our country”. 

One eventful day later the former leader vowed to return with a strong majority government. For now, Sweden works out what to do next.

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Hamish Davis

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May 2022
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