This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.
On June 17, 2021, the Swedish parliamentary parties the Left Party, the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Moderates expressed support for a motion for a vote of no confidence (Yrkande om Misstroendeförklaring) against the sitting Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. On June 21, 2021, the vote was conducted and a majority of the members of the Swedish Parliament voted “no confidence.” This post describes the laws regulating the formation of government and votes of no confidence against members of the Swedish Government.
1. How is a government formed in Sweden?
Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, with King Carl XVI Gustaf as the head of state. (1 kap. 5 § Regeringsformen.) The legislative power is vested in the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) and the Regeringen (the Swedish Government) is the executive branch. (1 kap. 4, 6 §§ Regeringsformen.)
Following a national election (riksdagsval), members of parliament must vote to elect the prime minister. (6 kap. 3, 4 §§ Regeringsformen.) A prime minister may be elected provided that there is not a parliamentary majority, meaning 175 or more members, voting against him or her. (6 kap. 4 § Regeringsformen.) In recent years, this has caused prime ministers to be elected without a majority supporting them or their policies. Most recently, Stefan Löfven was elected prime minister in January 2019, following four months of negotiations, with the active support of only 115 out of 349 members of parliament.
There are no term limits for the role of prime minister. The longest-serving prime minister was Tage Erlander (Social Democrats), who served from 1946 to 1969.
2. When can members of parliament bring a vote of no confidence against a sitting government?
The Swedish Constitution regulates “Votes of No Confidence” in chapter 13, article 4. (13 kap. 4 § Regeringsformen.) Accordingly, a minimum of 35 members of parliament (10% of the entire parliamentary body) must, in writing, bring a motion to hold a vote of no confidence (yrkande om misstroendeförklaring) against any member of the government to the Speaker of the Parliament. The Speaker must, upon receipt, schedule a question and answer session, followed by another session, and on the third session the entire chamber votes for or against the motion. (11 kap. 3 § Riksdagsordningen.) In order for a vote of no confidence to succeed, at least half of the members of parliament (175) must vote in favor of “no confidence.” If a vote against a member of the government (i.e., a minister) is successful, he or she must step down. If a vote against the prime minister is successful, the entire government (i.e., the cabinet) must step down, unless an extraordinary election to parliament is announced by the prime minister within a week. (6 kap. 7 § Regeringsformen.)
The vote of no confidence against Stefan Löfven was scheduled for June 21, 2021, at 10:00 am local time. At the time of scheduling the vote, a majority of 181 members of parliament (representing the Left Party, the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Moderates) had announced that they would vote against the prime minister.
Members of parliament do not need to produce a reason for their vote of no confidence. For example, the most recent vote of no confidence was a result of the Left Party wanting to thwart the government from initiating a process of adopting market rents (marknadshyror) for newly built residential buildings in Sweden; a policy that was otherwise largely supported by the Moderates and Christian Democrats. These two parties, however, declared they would vote against the government on the account that there is no parliamentary majority for the government’s policies overall.
The final vote was 181 in favor, 109 against, 51 abstaining, and eight absent.
3. Has there previously been a successful vote of no confidence in a prime minister by the parliament?
The vote on June 21, 2021, against Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was the first ever successful vote on a declaration of no confidence in a sitting prime minister in Sweden. Several votes of no confidence have been held against sitting prime ministers, with six held since 1980. The closest vote of no confidence was in 1980 against Thorbjörn Fälldin (Centerpartiet) who defeated the motion by one single vote. The prime minister subject to the most no confidence motions was Göran Persson (Social Democrats), who was subject to three votes of no confidence in 1996, 1998, and 2002, with all three being unsuccessful. Prior to the 2021 vote of no confidence, Stefan Löfven was subject to a no confidence vote in 2015, where only the Swedish Democrats voted against him.
4. When can a snap election be called?
Extraordinary, or “snap,” elections are automatically called by the Speaker when no prime minister is elected following four attempts (talmansrundor) in parliament following an election or vote of no confidence. An extraordinary election may also be announced by a sitting prime minister, provided parliament has been in session for a minimum of three months. A prime minister who has lost a vote of no confidence vote may announce an extraordinary election within one week of that vote. Once announced, an extraordinary election must be held within three months. (3 kap. 11 § and 6 kap. 5 § Regeringsformen.)
The extraordinary election will not affect the schedule of regularly scheduled elections, which must be held on the second Sunday of September every four years. (3 kap. 3 § Regeringsformen; 1 kap. 3 § Vallagen.) The next regular national election to the Swedish parliament is scheduled for September, 11, 2022.
Following his recent vote of no confidence, it is unclear if Stefan Löfven will call a snap election. The deadline to announce is Tuesday, June, 29, 2021.
5. Has there previously been extraordinary/snap elections in Sweden?
There have been three extraordinary elections in Sweden, in 1887, 1914, and 1958. All three took place before the parliament became a unicameral parliament in 1971. Most recently, in 1958, Prime Minister Tage Erlander (Social Democrat) called for an extraordinary election over the pension (ATP) question following Bondepartiet’s (now the Center Party) decision to leave the coalition government.
In addition to the three snap elections, a fourth was announced but never held. In 2014, sitting Prime Minister Löfven announced that he was going to announce a snap election after the opposition budget passed. In response to the announcement, seven out of the eight parliamentary parties negotiated and agreed to what became known as the Decemberöverenskommelsen, which stipulated that the largest coalition block (the Social Democrats, the Left Party, and the Greens, versus the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, the Center Party, and the Liberals) would be allowed to govern without the opposition seeking support from the kingmaker Sweden Democrats. A snap election was thus avoided and Stefan Löfven stayed on as prime minister.
6. How was the prime minister most recently elected?
Following a national parliamentary election, a mandatory vote on support for the sitting prime minister is held (not to be confused with a vote of no confidence). (6 kap. 3 § Regeringsformen.) Following the national parliamentary election in 2018, the Swedish Parliament voted against Prime Minister Löfven. Löfven thus served as interim-prime minister for several months until the center-right parties (the Center Party and the Liberals) joined the 2014 government parties (the Social Democrats and the Greens) by signing what has become known as the January Agreement (Januariavtalet) or Januariöverrenskommelsen (Jöken). Löfven was elected prime minister by parliament on January 18, 2019, with 115 in favor, 153 against, 77 abstaining, and four absent.
What a future government coalition may look like is unclear. The Liberal’s leader, Nyamko Sabuni, whose party supported Löfven in 2019, has declared that her party will not support the Social Democrats following the next parliamentary election (in 2022), but did not join in the vote of no confidence on June 21, 2021.
7. Additional Law Library of Congress online resources about the Swedish Parliament:
Law Library of Congress, Parliamentary Oversight: Sweden (2017)
Law Library of Congress, National Parliaments: Sweden (2016)
Elin Hofverberg, Sweden: Opposition Budget Passed, Government Announces Extraordinary Election, Global Legal Monitor (Dec. 23, 2014)