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STOCKHOLM — A proposed vote of no confidence in Sweden’s justice minister is threatening to bring down the government of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson just as she tries to get her country’s stuttering NATO application back on track.
On Tuesday at noon, the Swedish parliament is scheduled to decide the fate of Justice Minister Morgan Johansson after the far-right Sweden Democrats, backed by three other opposition parties, called for his removal, citing his record tackling violent crime.
The vote, if it goes ahead, looks set to be very tight, with 174 of 349 lawmakers saying they will back Johansson versus the same number against. The deciding vote looks set to fall to independent lawmaker Amineh Kakabaveh, whose vote last year also secured Andersson’s appointment as prime minister.
The stakes are high.
Andersson has said the whole government would resign if Johansson loses the support of parliament, plunging Sweden into a political crisis just three months before a general election and with a war raging between nearby Russia and its neighbor Ukraine. It would also further complicate Sweden’s already tricky path toward NATO membership, which Stockholm began last month.
As of late Monday, Kakabaveh said she still hadn’t decided which way she would vote, and experts were suggesting that if the Social Democrats believed Kakabaveh intended to withdraw support for Johansson, the justice minister might be encouraged to resign before the vote can take place.
That would seemingly allow Andersson to remain in power, but it would be a big blow for her government as Johansson has been a key minister for the Social Democrats since they regained power in 2014. He currently has a wide range of responsibilities from policing to crisis management.
Johansson has become a target of opposition ire over recent years as rates of gun crime in Swedish cities have remained stubbornly high. Concerns about criminal gangs in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö remain in sharp media focus amid criticism that the government isn’t doing enough to crack down.
Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, said last week that Johansson must resign.
“Gang crime is anything but cracked,” Åkesson said. “Sweden has turned into a country of gangsters.”
At a press briefing on Saturday, Prime Minister Andersson said it was irresponsible for the opposition parties to seek to remove Johansson when the security outlook in Europe has darkened so rapidly and when Sweden is scrambling — alongside Finland — to convince the 30 existing members of the NATO alliance to let them join.
“It is important to me that we have experienced ministers who can steer Sweden through this process,” she said.
Johansson is one of three ministers who — alongside Andersson — sit on the government’s security policy council, which discusses threats to the country.
A complicating factor for Andersson as the vote of no-confidence looms is the political profile of Kakabaveh, an Iran-born former fighter with Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who since becoming a Swedish lawmaker has pushed for greater support for Kurdish rights.
Last fall, she withheld her backing for the candidacy of Andersson to be Sweden’s prime minister until she had secured a commitment for an increase in such support.
That very deal — among other things — appears to have riled the Turkish government, which is now using its right of veto as an existing member of NATO to block Swedish and Finnish accession, citing Sweden’s support for Kurdish groups that Ankara regards as terrorists.
Now, Kakabaveh says she wants more concrete evidence that the Social Democrats are making good on their promises to support Kurdish groups before she will back Johansson in Tuesday’s vote.
She told reporters that the Social Democrats had been reluctant to provide that.
Kakabaveh said this was because the party didn’t want to “hurt” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and that her “gut feeling” was that the Social Democrats were prepared to remove Johansson from the government or allow him to leave.
“The Social Democrats would rather sacrifice their minister for Erdoğan’s sake than keep the government intact,” she said.