How Sweden elected its first female Prime Minister and transgender Minister in a week
di Purneet Kaur.
“In an interview with Swedish public radio after the appointment, Kihlblom said, “This is not a big deal, although it is important to me and many others who are experiencing the same issues. If I, in any small way, can be a role model or a trailblazer I am happy about that.”
What led to the Swedish political crisis in the last decade?
Over the last ten years the Swedish social democratic leader and prime minister for seven, Stefan Löfven, has found himself picking up the pieces of a party that has not been able to adapt to the new needs of a more enterprising and entrepreneurial middle class, and of the result of an economic rebirth - arisen from the ashes of the 1994 financial crisis. Löfven had to juggle the labyrinth of liberalization policies built by the centre-right predecessor, the conservative Moderate Party Fredrik Reinfeldt (premier from 2006 to 2014), who effectively dismantled the old Swedish welfare model. His policies included the management of those retirement homes in which, with the spread of Covid19, external visits have been blocked with a sidereal delay, and the consequent massacre of the elderly. Moreover, Löfven had to deal with an unprecedented surge in organized crime, street shootings and deaths that his government failed to stem. The resurgence and violence of crimes, according to surveys conducted by the Novus company, have remained such as to worry more than Covid19, in certain phases. The resigning premier again faced the biblical immigration of 2015, the terrorist attack of 2017 - the truck launched on the Stockholm shopping street -, and last but not least, the triumphalist and brazen advance of the far right. He survived the 2018 elections with an alliance born after almost five months, between the Social Democrats, the Greens, the Centre Party (historically much more to the right than to the left) and Liberals.
How did the pandemic aggravate the political instability?
And finally, the pandemic, whose management was in fact delegated to the Public Health Authority, led by the now famous Anders Tegnell, a statistician who doubted for months of the real effectiveness of the masks, and advocated some sort of self-management of restrictions by citizens.
The outcome of this did not escape the media and the Swedish people, even if not even this choice influenced popular distrust as much as the decisions of the welfare state, questioned by the housing crisis: the historical turning point, in the cradle of the narrow social democracy that had always guaranteed a roof for everyone, to open up to a system of uncontrolled and liberalized rents, to encourage private individuals to build those new apartments, which the state and municipalities have stopped building for at least ten years. This has caused the Left Party to get in the way of Parliament, together with the Centre Right, the far right and the Christian Democrats. The rent and housing crisis, which has seen the ranks of new homeless people grow, will also be the subject of direct negotiations for the approval of the autumn budget, namely the budget that Löfven has strategically given up to posterity. In addition to the house affair, defined as the trigger factor of the government crisis, there are three other points on which, in days by now, the parties will have to agree on, with an increasingly less icy Nordic coldness.
The Left Party is demanding reforms of the health insurance system – which has been in trouble for years now -, and of the weak unemployment fund - it was only reinforced during the pandemic, with a request for permanent prolongment of the provision, temporary at first. The Party calls for a halt to the erosion of welfare funding, fairer taxation and more investment in social equality, the climate, and the green transition. The Centre Party, resentful of the Left, will focus on more employment opportunities and stronger assistance to the rural areas that wants to revalue. Most likely, future fractures will also lay on these crucial issues, even if the Swedish political scenario of recent years has now taught us that the twist is always around the corner, set up by unlikely but effective alliances, from divorces and marriages between factions that once would have been unimaginable.
Why did ex-Swedish prime minister Löfven resign?
Löfven had presented his new minority government just a month and a half ago, to prevent a return to the polls and the advance of the ultra-right. But in late November, after seven years in power, the Prime Minister, at the age of 63, surprisingly announced that he was leaving his chair. "The party needs new leadership and new energy" he explained during the ritual summer speech, which this year took a completely unusual turn for the country. For Löfven, this marks the end of the second attempt after the sinking of the first executive, who in June gave him the unfortunate primacy of being the first head of government in Stockholm to lose a motion with no confidence in Parliament, with the communists of the Vänsterpartiet, the Left Party, who had turned their backs on him due to an unwelcome reform on rent liberalization.
"I want to leave my position as party president at the party congress in November, and then I also want to ask to be relieved of the post of prime minister," Löfven explained, clarifying that he has already warned Sap, the Social Democratic Party that he leads since 2012 and remains the main and oldest party in Sweden with its current 100 seats out of 349. "Everything has a beginning and an end, and I want to leave the best conditions to my successor".
"Löfven is not a good activist or polemicist, he is not the leader that the Social Democrats need in a tough election campaign where rhetoric is important", political commentator Ewa Stenberg told Swede Dagens Nyheter. “We need to sharpen our weapons for the next elections, and Löfven must have realized that he is not ready for the ring.”
Who could be a “new energy” for the party?
Magdalena Andersson, heir to Stefan Löfven at the head of the Social Democratic Party, obtained the green light from the Riksdag - the Parliament - to lead a Social Democratic-Green minority government. The green light was made possible by the peculiarity of the Swedish Constitution, which provides that prime minister and executive can be appointed and remain in office until at least 175 deputies out of 348 are against them. Andersson got 117 votes in favour, 57 abstentions and 174 votes against (one deputy was absent). One hundred years after Swedish women got the vote, the 54-year-old Social Democrat leader received a standing ovation from all the sections of the Riksdag. Electing Andersson to head a minority government followed an 11th-hour agreement with the left-wing opposition party, in exchange for higher pensions for many Swedes. She also secured the support of the coalition partner, the Greens. Former Uppsala College City Junior Swimming Champion, she began her political career in 1996 as a political advisor to then Prime Minister Goran Persson. She had spent the past seven years as finance minister. Before MPs backed Magdalena Andersson, Sweden was the only Nordic state that never had a woman as prime minister.
What led her government to fail within hours?
The Andersson-led government experienced the very first difficulties only hours after taking office, when the budget law proposed by the government was rejected with an opposed vote of the Centre Party, and an alternative proposal presented by the centre-right opposition parties – the Moderates and Christian Democrats – as well as the Swedish Democrats, the right-wing populist party with roots in a neo-Nazi movement considered more like pariah in Swedish politics, attracted more consensus. The opposition budget got 154 votes in favour and 143 against. The law was declined because it proposed the allocation of fewer resources to families and the environment, while increasing funds for the reduction of taxes, the increase of wages for the police force, and the strengthen of the judicial system. In a nutshell, it is a budget with a more right-wing orientation, which Andersson said she was willing to adopt until the next elections, scheduled for September 2022, but which prompted the Greens to leave the executive.
"We are united in arguing that we cannot stand in a government that implements a policy negotiated by the Swedish Democrats", said the spokeswoman for the Greens, Marta Stenevi. As Andersson pointed out, "a government should resign if a party leaves the coalition, even if the situation in Parliament has not changed" And so it happened. However, she immediately communicated to the speaker of the assembly that she sought to resubmit a vote to become Prime Minister, this time at the head of a government formally supported only by the Social Democrats. Within a week, Sweden's parliament had voted Andersson as its first woman prime minister and watched her resign seven hours later amidst political turmoil. However, it also waved her back into the job after a second vote.
The second vote
Less than a week later, the country’s Parliament re-elected her to the post, with the hope that she will be able to stick around longer this time. “Someone has to be prime minister in this country, and it seems like there is no other alternative,” Ms. Andersson said in response to questions about governing under an opposition-drafted budget, as the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported (8). Her minority government holds 100 of the 349 seats in parliament and needs to rule on the opposition’s budget, following what the media called Nightmare Day in the parliament. Ms. Andersson's precarious position reflects Sweden's growing fragmentation and divisive political landscape in which maintaining a stable government has become increasingly difficult. The narrow margin of Ms. Andersson's confirmation could predict the challenges she will face as she tackles issues such as climate change, well-being, and crime.
Alongside its first female prime minister, Sweden gets also its first transgender prime minister
Even though Sweden is regarded as one of the most progressive countries in Europe and in the entire world in relation to the recognition of LGBTQ+ people, the country had never had open representation of them in the government. Indeed, Sweden had become the first country in the world to allow transgender people to change their legal gender with sex reassignment surgery back in 1972, after transvestism was declassified as an illness, while same-sex sexual activities were legalized already in 1944. According to ILGA, the ‘International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’, Sweden is one of the Europe’s most gay-friendly countries, with extensive legislation protecting their rights; according to a poll of the European Union, 71% of the Swedes supports same sex marriages.
The newly elected Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has appointed in her cabinet, Lina Axelsson-Kihlblom as Minister of Schools. Last Tuesday, Axelsson-Kihlblom became the first transgender person to become government minister in the Nordic country. The 51-year-old former school principal and lawyer was added to the Social Democratic government by Andersson, who also became the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister. In her 2015 book ‘Will You Love Me Now?’ Axelsson-Kihlblom described her growing up from a girl into a boy's body and her physical transition to a woman's body, completed at the age of 25.
“Trans people have always existed; they will always exist, and we are no longer ashamed. We are the new normal”, she wrote in an article published in 2018 by the public broadcaster SVP.
To conclude, it is uncertain how this newly elected government will be able to guide Sweden in the current political crisis, but what is certain and what the latest developments have shown is that Sweden, once a bastion of political stability under the Social Democratic leadership, is now experiencing a phase of political turbulence and fragmentation.
- Angus Reid Global Monitor. (2007). "Eight EU Countries Back Same-Sex Marriage".
http://eu-digest.blogspot.com/2007/01/angus-reid-global-monitor-eight-eu.html - Ibid. - BBC. (2021). “Sweden's first female PM resigns hours after appointment” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-59400539 - BBC. (2021). “Sweden's first female PM resigns hours after appointment” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-59400539
- Blomgren, M. (2021). “Sweden’s political crisis: How we got here and what’s next” LSE.
- Nolin, H. (2018). "Lina Axelsson Kihlblom: Jag föddes i fel kropp" https://www.hemtrevligt.se/icakuriren/artiklar/aktuellt/20180704/jag-foddes-i-fel-kropp/ - Reuters. (2021). “Swedish PM to step down in November ahead of 2022 elections”
https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/swedish-pm-lofven-says-step-down-november-2021-08-22/ - Savage, M. (2021). "Sweden's first female PM resigns hours after appointment" BBC.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-59400539 - Ibid. - The Guardian. (2021). "Swedish PM Stefan Löfven loses no-confidence vote".
- The Guardian. (2019). “Sweden is named Europe’s most gay-friendly country”
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/nov/22/lgbt-travel-index-puts-sweden-top-and-warns-against-some-popular-destinations - The Telegraph. (2021). "Sweden lines up Magdalena Andersson to be its first woman prime minister" https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2021/08/28/sweden-lines-magdalena-andersson-first-woman-prime-minister/
- World, N. (2021). https://news.tvs-24.com/world/78356.html
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