STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s government narrowly survived a vote of no confidence on Tuesday in a significant victory for Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson as she scrambles to recalibrate her country’s stuttering NATO application.
The vote specifically targeted Justice Minister Morgan Johansson over his record on violent crime, but Andersson said last week that the whole government would resign if Johansson lost the support of parliament.
In the end, 174 of 349 lawmakers voted against Johansson. Under the Swedish system, 175 or more votes are needed to remove a minister.
Independent lawmaker Amineh Kakabaveh, whose vote had been billed as decisive, said she would abstain in a move that ensured Johansson could keep his job.
For Andersson, the outcome of the vote ensures a measure of stability within her core team at a sensitive time as Sweden awaits a response from NATO members to its application to join the alliance.
“Sweden is in a vulnerable position and our country needs a strong government,” Andersson told reporters after the vote. “It is therefore a good thing that the justice minister can continue.”
Sweden, alongside neighboring Finland, is three weeks into what looks like being a months-long NATO application process launched after both countries decided they needed the security of the alliance’s mutual defense commitments in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24.
But the outlook for a fast track to NATO membership has been clouded by stiff opposition from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has equated Swedish support for Kurdish groups with support for terrorism. As a current NATO member, Turkey can veto new entrants.
The starring role for independent lawmaker Kakabaveh — an advocate for Kurdish rights — in Tuesday’s proceedings is unlikely to ease Turkey’s concerns, experts say.
On Tuesday morning, Kakabaveh said that she had been reassured by the governing Swedish Social Democrats that the party would stand by an earlier deal made with her to increase support for the Kurdish YPG and PYD groups in northern Syria, groups Ankara regards as terrorists.
“I’ve had meetings with the Social Democrats … and they have confirmed that the support remains,” Kakabaveh said.
Andersson condemned the opposition parties’ effort to remove Johansson as irresponsible, given that the justice minister is one of just four members of the Swedish government’s security policy council, which discusses threats against Sweden.
As justice minister, he also holds a wide-ranging brief spanning policing and crisis management.
“Their nonchalant decision could have had serious consequences because we are in a very sensitive position,” Andersson said. “The opposition parties were very aware of that.”
But opposition lawmakers have long said Johansson’s performance as minister over eight years has been inadequate, especially his attempts to tackle violent crime in Sweden.
“Every day Morgan Johansson remains justice minister is a lost day in the fight against criminality,” Henrik Vinge, a lawmaker with the far-right Sweden Democrats, told a debate ahead of the no-confidence vote.
The Sweden Democrats brought the vote against Johansson backed by the center-right Moderate, Christian Democrat and Liberal parties.
With just three months remaining until a general election on September 11, the tone in Swedish politics looks set to remain sharp, with opinion polling suggesting a tight race.
Voters seem to have warmed to Andersson as prime minister and her Social Democrats have spiked to an eight-year high of 33 percent in opinion polls. However, their allies the Green Party and Center Party have both seen a fall in support.
Meanwhile, opposition parties the Moderates and Sweden Democrats remain steady in second and third place in surveys of voter sentiment, but their allies the Liberal Party have seen their appeal ebb away.
Andersson said she planned to use the just under 100 days until the election to focus on taking Sweden into NATO and called for increased domestic political stability during that process.
She also said she wanted the focus in parliament to be on issues she felt were important to voters such as tackling serious crime and improving welfare provision.
“Let me be clear, Sweden does not need more political games which could get in the way of our NATO application,” she said.