“In an uncertain political situation, the PM should resign”

12 September 2018

Li Bennich-Björkman

Li Bennich-Björkman, Professor of Political Science at Uppsala University.

Not all the votes in the Swedish election have been counted, and the political situation is unclear. We talked to Li Bennich-Björkman, Professor of Political Science at Uppsala University, to hear what is going on.

What’s your take on the election result?
“There were fewer changes than I expected, after all. The Social Democrats and Moderates lost ground, but not that much. The Left Party and Sweden Democrats made gains, but the election outcome is worse than they’d hoped for. The Centre and Christian Democrats did well. As for the Green Party’s major losses, they’re a matter of accountability to the electors, who aren’t satisfied with what the Party has achieved in government.”

What should the Greens consider now?
“They should weigh up whether they really should remain a government option with the Social Democrats. At the beginning of this government term, the Greens suffered several major defeats associated with the migration issue. The Social Democrats are on record as a difficult party to collaborate with and the two parties also have completely different party cultures.”

Why did the two biggest parties lose ground?
“We should reserve judgement. The researchers will analyse that.”

What will happen now?
“We now have three major parties, of which the Sweden Democrats have no fixed loyalty. That creates unpredictability, which doesn’t always have to be negative. We’ll have a few weeks of the parties negotiating with one another to see what government groupings and Prime Minister candidates can gain the Riksdag’s confidence. On 24 September, the Riksdag meets to elect a Speaker and a Prime Minister.”

How does voting in the Riksdag work?
“Sweden has what’s known as negative parliamentarism. The proposed Prime Minister is elected unless a majority of members – that is, at least 175 – vote “no”. There’ll be settlements among the parties before the vote; in order to not vote “no” they will want something in return, more or less. The Sweden Democrats may conceivably want to create more confidence in the Moderates and therefore be more courteous in their demands. But for some parties, broadly speaking, it’s impossible to tolerate other parties in government. One example is the Alliance, which is committed to voting against the Left Party being in government. In practice, this means that the ‘Red-Greens’ (i.e. the Social Democrats and Greens, with their Left Party ally) aren’t that big, since the Left Party can’t realistically be a part of the governing coalition. They may be a supporting party, as before, but they’ll get a poor return on the election result.”

Should the Prime Minister resign after the election result?
“Yes, he should resign because both government parties suffered quite a big setback and lost Riksdag seats. Accountability is an important feature of an election. The citizens are often said, with their votes, to be both looking ahead, saying what they want the future to be like, and looking back. It’s also clear from the preparatory work on the legislation that the Prime Minister should resign if there’s an uncertain political situation after the election.”

But isn’t the Red-Green bloc the biggest at the time of writing?
“It’s a problem that every party looks at: which turned out the largest, regardless of whether it gained or lost ground. That prevents accountability. Both government parties have lost seats and the Green Party almost fell out of the Riksdag. The Alliance, too, bases its arguments on which bloc is the biggest. Each side declares itself the winner, and that’s unfortunate. It’s extremely odd that the politicians don’t admit election defeats, and instead start discussing what they did wrong.”

What’s the Speaker’s role?
“The Speaker’s responsible for leading the discussions on possible governing coalitions. The Speaker’s importance shouldn’t be exaggerated: it isn’t the Speaker who decides which Government we get. However, the Speaker can be more or less diplomatic and skilled in bringing parties together, and may be important in that way.”

Will there be an extraordinary election?
“If the Speaker’s fourth proposal for Prime Minister is voted down in the Riksdag, then an extraordinary election has to be announced within three months. But that’s never happened and probably won’t happen now either. The parties have, of course, discussed various scenarios before the election, so they’re prepared.”