Swedish PM Lofven facing defeat as no-confidence vote looms

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Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven addresses a news conference, after parliament passed a bill giving the government the temporary power to adopt new measures to slow the COVID-19 pandemic, in Stockhom, Sweden January 8, 2021. Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

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  • Left Party withdraws backing for government
  • Move sparked by planned easing of rent control
  • Far-right party calls no-confidence vote
  • Could lead to snap election

STOCKHOLM, June 17 (Reuters) - Sweden faces either an election or a caretaker government if a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Stefan Lofven passes next week as expected, although Lofven said on Thursday he had not decided whether to resign or call a snap poll if he loses.

The far-right Sweden Democrats demanded the vote, scheduled for Monday, after the Left Party, at the other end of the political spectrum, withdrew its support for Lofven over a plan to scrap rent controls on newly built apartments. read more

"If we have a chance to replace this damaging government we will take it," Henrik Vinge, the Sweden Democrats' parliamentary group leader, told a news conference.

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Other opposition parties have said they will vote to remove Lofven, whose minority coalition relies on support from the formerly communist Left Party and two small centre-right parties bent on liberal reform.

"It is a dangerous path that the Left Party and the right-wing conservative parties are now choosing," Lofven told reporters. "They have no common plan for the future."

Opinion polls suggest an election may not bring much change, with neither the centre-left nor centre-right bloc set to win a majority if an election were held today. Further complicating the electoral maths, some smaller parties also risk failing to reach the 4% threshold for seats in parliament.

Lofven secured a second term as premier in 2018 after months of negotiations following an election that saw the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats make big gains and marked a redrawing of the political map.

He has clung to power since by balancing demands from the Centre and Liberal parties -- with which he has a formal policy agreement -- with his need to retain the Left Party's backing.

The Moderate Party, the biggest opposition party in parliament, said it would vote to oust Lofven, as did the smaller Christian Democrats. A vote of no-confidence would need a simple majority in the 349-seat parliament to pass.

The Left Party, which has tried to flex its muscles despite being excluded from having any policy influence by Lofven's agreement with the Centre and Liberal parties, said it too will vote against Lofven. But a defeat for him could usher in a right-of-centre government that would be even less to its taste.

A caretaker government -- another possibility should a vote of no-confidence pass -- would probably be headed by Lofven as there is no clear alternative.

Popular appetite for a snap poll may be limited while Sweden is still fighting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as a regular election is due next year anyway.

"Nobody wants a government crisis one year ahead of elections," said Ulf Bjereld, political science professor at Gothenburg University and an active Social Democrat.

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Reporting by Simon Johnson

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