How Sweden elected its first woman PM in dramatic circumstances

She was narrowly re-elected soon after she was forced to resign just hours after she had become PM

Sweden's first woman Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson - FRANKIE FOUGANTHIN/WIKIPEDIA

Despite being globally renowned for upholding gender equality, Sweden only recently elected its first woman prime minister.

Magdalena Andersson assumed the post after finalising a deal with the Left party to raise pensions in exchange for its support. 

But within hours, she was forced to resign. Her Social Democrats party announced her resignation after the junior partner in the two-party coalition, the Greens Party, pulled out following parliament’s rejection of the coalition’s budget proposal.

Greens leader Per Bolund said his party would not accept the opposition’s budget, “drafted for the first time with the far right”. The small centre party then quit the government, saying a planned tax cut on petrol would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions – a policy which struck at the core of the party’s creed.

Andersson was dealt a second blow when parliament accepted an alternative budget put forward by the opposition comprising the conservative Moderates, the Christian Democrats and the far-right Sweden Democrats.

Riding the moral high ground, Andersson remarked, “There is a constitutional practice that a coalition government should resign when one party quits. I don’t want to lead a government whose legitimacy will be questioned.” 

Andersson’s resignation plunged the country into a period of political haziness, but it was no cause for consternation as the country’s democratic institutions were firmly intact and had always withstood the test of time. Many MPs in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, gave Magdalena Andersson a standing ovation on 24 November after she announced her resignation.

Riksdag Speaker Andreas Norlén accepted her resignation and said he would contact party leaders before deciding on the next course of action.

READ MORE:  Gender-responsive budgeting the way forward for Malaysia

A graduate of the prestigious Stockholm School of Economics, Andersson, however, informed the speaker she was prepared to lead a minority government. Her Social Democrats party holds just 100 seats in the 349-seat parliament. 

In the event, politicians narrowly elected Andersson to head the government again – less than a week after she had resigned within hours of taking the job. [Of relevance to Malaysia is the Swedish constitutional provision that states that prime ministers can govern as long as a majority in parliament – at least 175 MPs – are not against them. For the record, 174 rejected Andersson’s appointment, 117 approved, with 57 abstaining.]

Andersson now faces the tricky task of governing based on a Budget partly formulated by the three opposition parties.

Nordic nations show the way

Surprisingly, Sweden has lagged other Nordic countries where women have been elected prime ministers much earlier.

Denmark and Iceland have had and still have women as prime ministers.

Mette Frederiksen has been Prime Minister of Denmark since 2019.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who was recently re-elected as the Prime Minister of Iceland, has been in office since 2017. 

Finland’s Sanna Mirella Marin has been the Prime Minister since 2019. 

In Norway, Erna Solberg served as Prime Minister from 2013 to October 2021. Many remember her as the prime minister who was fined 20,000 Norwegian crowns (RM9,700) by the police in February for violating physical distancing rules during a family gathering to celebrate her 60th birthday.   

Proportional representation gives fairer outcome

Sweden has time and again shown democracies all over the world the priceless lessons of democratic values, where parliamentarians can be seen to conduct themselves with great dignity.

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Its system of proportional representation in parliament also ensures all political parties are fairly represented in parliament. The system safeguards against any gerrymandering of constituencies, and so the voices of the people are fairly represented in parliament.

If Malaysia had adopted a proportional representation system, then the outcome of our parliamentary and state elections results would have been vastly different.

For instance, proportional representation would have ensured a fairer representation in the recent Malacca state election, where Barisan Nasional won 21 of the 28 seats contested, despite bagging just 2.6% more of the popular vote than its closest rival, Pakatan Harapan, which picked up only five seats.  



AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Paul Lim
Paul Lim
12 Dec 2021 3.26pm

However, do not expect Sweden to abandon Neo-liberal policies which has also undone its welfare state. Having a Woman PM does not mean change in policies. Sweden is no more a model of state welfarism as Swedes themselves will say.