Sweden’s beleaguered Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has said he would step down in November to allow a successor time to prepare for the country’s September 2022 general election.
Lofven was reinstated as prime minister by parliament in early July just weeks after being removed in a historic vote of no confidence.
He told a political rally on Sunday he would “leave my position as party chairman at the party’s congress in November and thereafter also resign as prime minister”.
Lofven, 64, has served as party leader for almost 10 years and as prime minister since 2014.
“Everything has an end and I want to give my successor the best possible chances,” he said.
The former welder and union leader has led a weak minority government together with the Greens Party for the past three years, struggling to find a workable coalition following inconclusive elections in September 2018.
The announcement of his resignation came nonetheless as a surprise, as Lofven had previously indicated he wanted to lead the party in the next election campaign.
But Ewa Stenberg, political commentator at Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said it was a wise decision on his part.
“Lofven’s not a good election campaigner or debater, he’s not the leader the Social Democrats need in a tough election campaign where rhetoric is important,” she wrote.
“Against that background, it’s logical that he hands over to someone who’s better with words and who can spark enthusiasm.”
It is not yet known who will succeed Lofven as party leader, though Stenberg and other political commentators speculated that Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson was a hot tip.
Andersson has held the finance portfolio for seven years, and has on occasion stood in for the prime minister.
Health Minister Lena Hallengren, who like Andersson enjoys relatively high ratings among the public, especially for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, was also mentioned as a possible successor.
Despite being a longstanding champion of women’s rights and gender equality, Sweden, unlike its Nordic neighbours, has yet to have a female prime minister.
Whoever is elected to succeed Lofven as party leader would have to be approved by parliament in order to take over as prime minister.
Since coming to power in 2014, Lofven has weathered the decline of social democracy in Europe, the rise of the far right and the pandemic.
But he was left weakened by a political crisis that emerged in June this year, when the Left Party that had been propping up his coalition withdrew its support over a preliminary plan to reform rent controls.
Lofven was forced to resign after losing a vote of no confidence.
The opposition was given a chance to form a government but failed to secure enough votes in parliament, ultimately leading a majority of lawmakers to reinstate Lofven as prime minister.