STOCKHOLM (REUTERS)- Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven caught the nation off guard on Sunday (Aug 22), saying he would resign in November ahead of a general election in September 2022 to give his successor a chance to improve the Social Democrats' standing in the polls.
Mr Lofven has been prime minister since 2014, but his two coalition governments with the Green Party have lurched from crisis to crisis, unable to command a majority in Parliament.
The most recent setback saw Mr Lofven, a former welder and union leader, resign in June after losing a no-confidence vote.
He was returned to office by Parliament in July when the leader of the biggest opposition party, the Moderates, failed to get enough backing to form a new government.
"In next year's election campaign, the Social Democrats will be led by someone else than me," Mr Lofven said in an annual summer speech. "Everything has an end and I want to give my successor the very best conditions."
He said he would step down at the party's congress in November.
The government may not survive much longer than that as it does not have the support it needs to pass a budget in the autumn.
Mr Lofven's possible successors include current Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, Sodertorn University political scientist Jenny Madestam told Swedish news agency TT.
Professor Madestam said Energy Minister Anders Ygeman, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, Enterprise Minister Ibrahim Baylan and Health Minister Lena Hallengren could also be candidates.
"Hallengren is less associated with the right or left of the party, and has proven to be an extremely skilled political leader during the coronavirus pandemic," Prof Madestam said.
Mr Lofven's Social Democrats have dominated Swedish politics for generations, but their support - like that of left-of-centre parties across much of Europe - has gradually eroded.
In addition, the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a populist, anti-immigration party, has made forming majority governments almost impossible.
Mr Lofven took over the leadership of the Social Democrats in 2012, when their support was at an all-time low and managed to return them to power after eight years of centre-right rule.
He had a second term in 2018, but only when two centre-right parties swopped sides, leaving Mr Lofven caught between their demands and those of the Left Party, whose support he has also needed.
His successor is likely to have similar problems as opinion polls show the centre-right and centre-left blocs still deadlocked.