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26 November 2021

Sweden named its first woman prime minister. Seven hours later she resigned.

A volatile political landscape and a tenuous hold on power prompted Magdalena Andersson's resignation on her first day as leader.

By Megan Gibson

In a historic moment for Sweden, this week the country named its first ever woman prime minister, the Social Democrats’ Magdalena Andersson. Seven hours later, she resigned.

On the morning of 24 November, Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, voted in Andersson to lead a minority coalition government with the Green Party. With the vote, Sweden briefly ended its unwelcome position as the only Nordic nation to never have had a woman prime minister. 

But in a sign of just how volatile the political landscape in formerly staid Sweden has become, Andersson’s new government lost a budget vote later that afternoon. As that meant she would have to govern using the opposition’s budget, the Greens withdrew their support, causing the coalition to collapse. Andersson resigned shortly after, noting, “This maybe is not the best image of Swedish politics.”

The upset follows a summer of political turmoil for Sweden. Andersson, 54, took over as leader of the centre-left Social Democrats on 4 November following the resignation of the prime minister Stefan Löfven, her party colleague. Though the Social Democrats have long been considered Sweden’s natural ruling party, its influence has diminished in recent elections and, in June, Löfven lost a parliamentary motion of no confidence – a first for the party.

As James Savage wrote for the New Statesman in June,  the Social Democrats’ decline in Sweden has coincided with the sudden rise of the similarly named but ideologically distant Sweden Democrats. Due to their neo-Nazi roots, the far-right Sweden Democrats were long ignored by mainstream politicians. Yet centre-right parties such as the Moderates and Christian Democrats have warmed to them recently as their platform has gained traction with the electorate.

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The Sweden Democrats campaigned on an anti-immigration and law and order platform. As concern over spikes in gang violence began to rise, so too did their electoral prospects. They took 17.5 per cent of the vote in the 2018 elections, making them the third-largest party.

Though there are still plenty of politicians who refuse to consider working with the Sweden Democrats – the Centre Party, for example – new power blocs are taking shape. In fact, the opposition budget that was approved by parliament during the vote on 24 November was partially negotiated by the Sweden Democrats (a fact that the Green Party particularly objected to).

Yet Andersson will have a second shot at being prime minister. On 25 November, the speaker of parliament Andreas Norlén announced that he would nominate her again for office after speaking to the leaders of all eight main political parties. Another vote will be held on Monday and, with the Centre Party, the former communist Left Party and the Green Party all indicating they won’t vote against her, it’s widely expected Andersson will again be named prime minister, this time leading a single-party minority government.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the path ahead will be smooth. As recent turmoil shows, governing in the fractured environment of Swedish politics has become increasingly difficult. With elections due to take place next September, Andersson will be under pressure to both show that she can navigate a volatile parliament and prove to voters that she’s the best person to tackle the country’s most pressing problems. It’d be a difficult task for anyone, let alone someone whose first hours in office were marked by a very public defeat.

Still, at least Sweden has at last joined the ranks of countries that have had a woman as leader.  

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