• Sweden edition
 

Analysis: Why Freivalds had to go

Published: 21 Mar 2006 12:16 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Mar 2006 12:16 GMT+01:00

Politicians rarely resign in Sweden. The most high-profile in recent times was when Mona Sahlin quit as deputy prime minister in 1995 after buying a Toblerone on her government credit card. Many ministers since then have managed to ride out tough and prolonged questioning – including Freivalds' temporary successor, Bosse Ringholm, who whilst finance minister was also chairman of a football club accused of tax dodging.

But if resignations are so rare, why has Freivalds gone now?

A reluctant foreign minister, Freivalds, 63, was appointed in 2003 to replace her murdered predecessor, Anna Lindh. This marked a return to high office after a number of years in the political wilderness – she had been forced to resign as minister of justice in 2000 amid controversy over plans to convert her rental apartment block into a condominium, contrary to the official party line.

Her rehabilitation was destined to be short-lived. Freivalds bore the brunt of public anger at the government’s failure to realise how serious the South Asian tsunami was for Swedes.

In last December’s official report into how the Swedish government handled the catastrophe both Persson and Freivalds were held personally responsible for the fact that there was no mechanism in place for dealing with a major crisis.

But it was Freivalds who suffered most from the political fallout. If there was one event that symbolised her mishandling of the event, it was her trip to the theatre on the evening following the tsunami.

This was later interpreted as displaying a lack of sensitivity to the Swedish victims and a dereliction of duty when thousands of Swedish tourists were dead, injured and destitute on the other side of the world.

Yet this was also evidence of Freivalds’ haplessness and lack of political judgment. Göran Persson was no quicker to realise the significance of the tsunami for Sweden, yet his career was much less badly dented. Freivalds’ awkward handling of the press and lack of political nous has much to do with the comparatively rough political ride she endured.

Her role as fall-guy for the government was cemented after December’s Catastrophe Commission report. While calls for Persson’s resignation were few and far between, even the government’s allies in the Green Party were calling for her to go. Opposition parties mulled over the possibility of a vote of no-confidence in the embattled minister.

Persson allowed her to remain at the Foreign Ministry, saying, "I don't believe firing anyone would soothe the suffering of a single individual.”

But the apparent forced closure of the Sweden Democrats' website on February 9th, after pictures of the prophet Muhammad had been published on it, renewed the pressure. It proved to be the final blow to Freivalds’ credibility.

Freivalds initially denied having authorised a foreign ministry official to contact the Sweden Democrats’ hosting company, Levonline.

Amid allegations of state censorship, prime minister Göran Persson publicly slammed the civil servant behind the move.

"However strong his personal reasons may be, with a political position as adviser in the foreign ministry he should refrain from this sort of activity," Persson said at the time.

When one of her own civil servants, Carl Henrik Ehrenkrona, said in testimony to the Chancellor of Justice that Freivalds had indeed known in advance of the contact with Levonline, her already precarious position was weakened further.

Swedish government bodies are banned in the constitution from getting involved in what newspapers, including web-based newspapers, write.

Speaking on Swedish Radio on Monday morning Freivalds said that she had been 'surprised' by questions from journalists. She said she believed that they had asked if it was the foreign ministry which had shut the site down.

This explanation was not bought by opposition politicians, and the media pressure failed to abate.

More damagingly, fellow members of the left-wing governing coalition were also piling on the pressure. Green Party spokesman Peter Eriksson, having already called for Freivalds to resign over the tsunami, asked whether she had lied over the cartoons issue. A question to which many argued the answer was yes.

Some, not least Eriksson, have been surprised that Freivalds lasted so long. Persson allowed her to remain despite her tendency to attract negative publicity.

But while in the tsunami crisis Freivalds protected Persson by providing a useful conduit for criticism that might otherwise have been directed at him, in the latest controversy Freivalds only served to bring embarrassment to the government as a whole.

So while the timing may be unfortunate for the Social Democrats – six months almost to the day before the general election – there was little hope of saving Freivalds' career.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Race to be scrapped from Swedish legislation
Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag meets children in Husby, Stockholm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Race to be scrapped from Swedish legislation

The Swedish government announced that it plans to remove all mentions of race from Swedish legislation, saying that race is a social construct which should not be encouraged in law. READ  

US aircraft 'violates' Swedish airspace

US aircraft 'violates' Swedish airspace

A mystery airplane that passed over Swedish airspace recently has been revealed as an American aircraft, sources revealed on Thursday. READ  

Elite schools stripped of 'special' privileges

Elite schools stripped of 'special' privileges

Sweden's three elite boarding schools can no longer charge tuition fees, the government announced on Thursday, in a string of changes following a two-year review. READ  

Bildt lays out four steps to Gaza peace
Photos: TT

Bildt lays out four steps to Gaza peace

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt stated that there are four steps to achieving peace in Gaza, and that it begins with removing the blockade - which has "played into Hamas' hands". READ  

Malmström snags EU commissioner post again

Malmström snags EU commissioner post again

Cecilia Malmström has been nominated to be the European Commissioner for another five years, Sweden's prime minister announced on Thursday. READ  

Stockholm Pride 2014
In Pictures: Stockholm's Historic Pride Party
Conchita Wurst belts out a ballad. Photo: Rebecca Jacobs

In Pictures: Stockholm's Historic Pride Party

With Stockholm's Pride Week in full swing, The Local's Rebecca Jacobs heads on down to the traditional Historic Party to take in the colours, Conchita, and the community. READ  

Two to hospital after Stockholm fire

Two to hospital after Stockholm fire

Two people were taken to hospital in the early hours of Thursday morning after a fire began in their central Stockholm apartment. READ  

Salmonella prompts Coop hamburger recall
Photo: Jim Cole/TT

Salmonella prompts Coop hamburger recall

Swedish supermarket chain Coop has recalled its in-store brand of fresh hamburger meat after a routine check revealed traces of salmonella in the meat. READ  

What's On in Sweden
Photo: Roger Vikström/TT

What's On in Sweden

It's Pride Week in Stockholm. Find out more about the celebrations (including the biggest Pride Parade in Scandinavia) as well as plenty of other activities in Sweden's three biggest cities. READ  

Sweden resumes aid to 'anti-gay Uganda'
Hillevi Engström and protesters against Uganda's anti-gay laws. Photos: Maja Suslin/Ben Curtis/TT

Sweden resumes aid to 'anti-gay Uganda'

Sweden has resumed sending development aid funds to Uganda, after suspending payouts back in March due to "anti-gay legislation". READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Stockholm Pride bars Sweden Democrats
National
Gender neutral pronoun 'hen' enters dictionary
Society
Top ten cafes in Stockholm
People-watching
Gallery
People-watching - Stockholm Pride
Photo: Henrik Trygg/Imagebank Sweden
Society
Sweden worst in EU at getting foreigners jobs
Blog updates

31 July

Calling a speedo a speedo (Blogweiser) »

"There are a lot of speedos on Europe’s beaches. Some European males are evidently more comfortable sporting small, stretchy suits on public beaches than I would be. I accept it may be nice to have swimwear that’s not long and cumbersome. A speedo is maybe also good for tanning. But strolling around town in a..." READ »

 

27 July

Approaching Stockholm (Around Sweden in a kayak) »

"I woke up in the comfort of my own little cabin on Eva and Rolf’s boat, it was 7:30am and I was feeling a bit groggy after a couple of beers with all the lovely locals the night before. The previous day had really taken its toll on my body and I was very stiff and..." READ »

 
 
 
Lifestyle
Stockholm Pride kicks off
Analysis
The top six ways the US and Sweden differ
National
Swedish youth suicides hit 25-year high
National
Politician reported for selling 'negro ball'
National
Police turn blind eye to Swedish 'slave trade'
Gallery
Stockholm Pride: Allsång på Skansen with Conchita Wurst
Skatteverket
Sponsored Article
Introducing... ID cards and permits in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching, June 26th - 28th. Get inside Stockholm's hottest nightclubs
Gallery
Top ten Swedish taboos
Society
Seven-year-old Swede cycles to Berlin
Politics
'Gaza conflict needs help, not empty rhetoric'
Society
Swedes voted 'most beautiful' in the Nordics
Business & Money
Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax
National
Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Society
What's On in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching July 23
National
Swedish cops elect not to shoot 'angry elks'
Business & Money
New alcohol retail rules threaten micro-breweries
Gallery
People-watching Båstad
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

751
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se