Sweden Elects Its First Female Leader — for Second Time in a Week


Last week, Magdalena Andersson became Sweden’s first female prime minister — for all of seven hours. Less than a week later, the country’s Parliament has re-elected her to the post, with the hope that she will be able to stick around longer this time.

Ms. Andersson, 54, was first chosen last Wednesday, but resigned after her budget was rejected by Parliament and her coalition collapsed. After days of negotiations, she gathered enough support to return to the top job Monday, this time without the minority party that brought her down.

Her appointment as prime minister, heading a single-party government, passed by just a two-vote margin. She is expected to name her cabinet on Tuesday.

With only 100 of 349 seats in Parliament, Ms. Andersson’s party, the Social Democrats, will need to form coalitions to pass major legislation. She will be the first prime minister in 15 years to govern with a single party, and will have to govern under a budget adopted by the opposition hours after her proposal was rejected.

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 may forecast the challenges she faces as she tackles issues like climate change, welfare and crime.

“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, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported Monday.

At a news conference after the vote, Ms. Andersson, who had served as Sweden’s finance minister since 2014, said she was “ready to do what it takes to move Sweden forward” until an election expected to take place next September.

Ms. Andersson succeeded the former prime minister, Stefan Lofven, as leader of the Social Democrats after a no-confidence vote against him in June.

Ulf Bjereld, a political scientist at Gothenburg University, said Ms. Andersson had a reputation for being toward the right. “Finance ministers often are,” he said. “It’s part of the job description.”

But during the pandemic, he said, her conservative positions softened, and she expressed more openness to borrowing money to finance green investments in industry, and to taking back control of the welfare sector from the private sector.

Sweden was once hailed for letting in more refugees per capita than any other European nation. But its image has changed over the past decade, as an increasing number of migrants in the country led to a backlash from far-right populists. That has led to increasing calls for stricter policies on admitting asylum seekers.

Despite the political turmoil preceding her confirmation, Ms. Andersson’s election is a milestone for Sweden, which has a reputation for being one of the most progressive countries when it comes to gender equality.

Sweden reported the highest percentage of seats held by women in national parliaments in European Union countries in 2020, according to data released by Eurostat this year. But this is the first time the country has elected a woman to its top leadership post.

Margot Wallstrom, a former Swedish foreign minister, said Ms. Andersson’s confirmation will help young women realize “it is possible also to reach the highest political post.”

Ms. Wallstrom introduced in 2014 what she called a “feminist foreign policy,” putting gender equality at the center of Sweden’s international relations. “More women means more peace,” she said.

Sweden ranked at the top of a survey of the “best countries for women” published by U.S. News & World Report, and fifth in a recent survey of “gender-equal countries” by the World Economic Forum.

Christina Anderson reported from Stockholm.



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