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Is the PM overstaying his welcome?

Published: 15 Apr 2014 08:40 GMT+02:00

"You're committing a grievous error if you don't let other politicians into the limelight," lobbying expert Birger Östberg at PR firm Westander told The Local. "For example, Göran Persson was criticized for not giving space to Margot Wallström."
 
Social Democrat Persson, Reinfeldt's predecessor as prime minister, left a power vacuum behind him in his party after the 2006 elections which were won by the government coalition known as the Alliance. The new prime minister, in contrast to Persson's lone ranger attitude, has always had a very talented back-up dancer - Finance Minister Anders Borg.
 
"Reinfeldt and Borg are very strong vote magnets for the Alliance, and have been over the past two elections," Östberg said.
 
While the old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it" may apply to all the political parties, Östberg cautioned that there was a risk of voter tedium if parties didn't shake things up a bit over time. He said that in general most leaders - also in the business world - overstayed their welcome.
 
"Just like you can tire of someone in any long relationship, you can tire of the party leaders," he said. "We're quite well acquainted with Fredrik Reinfeldt's style by now. Those sad eyes... can't he just be a bit happier?" 
 
The Moderate Party secretary Kent Persson, however, said he thought the Swedish electorate was more interested in policy than polishings.
 
"I believe people prioritize political content ahead of both the parties and their leaders," Persson told The Local via email. "In the 2006 elections, Reinfeldt represented new policies that the Swedish voters wanted." 
 
But do they still want them, and him? Södertörn University political scientist Nick Aylott said Reinfeldt's image is rock solid.
 
"He has cultivated a man of the people image and a statesman image, which is an unusual combination," he told The Local.
 
"The bigger risk is that the voters are tired not so much of Reinfeldt but of the government as a whole," Aylott said of what he called a "state of paralysis" which had set in because the government does not have its own parliamentary majority. 
 
And has Reinfeldt's popularity come at a price?
 
"Reinfeldt has been such a dominant leader that it's been difficult for anyone else to emerge as a rival," Aylott said.
 
Apart from the ministers, Aylott said one Moderate who flits in and out of the headlines is the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Financial Affairs, Anna Kinberg Batra. Although even Aylott had to pause before recalling her name, admitting that this was perhaps proof that she is still yet to become a household name. 
 
"She has plenty of things in her favour: Relatively young, yet experienced, and very well-anchored in the party. And, not least, a woman," Aylott said. 
 
"Having a woman would make it less easy for the Social Democrats to proclaim themselves as the party of gender equality," he said. 
 
Aylott also mentioned Defence Minister Karin Enström, but said being in charge of the cash-strapped military at the same time as Russia rumbles to the east could make her a tough sell. 
 
Plucking a crown prince or a crown princess may simply not be the Moderates' style. As a right-of-centre party, the onus is on the individual, rather than the left-wing's fascination with the collective. In other words, if you want to lead - then fight. The Moderate party secretary was keen to point out that there were career opportunities in politics, if one was ready to nurture them.
 
"Both within the party and in parliament there are good opportunities for civil servants and parliamentarians to develop on their own steam," Kent Persson explained.
 
Persson's press secretary Henrik Sjöström explained that about a third of the Moderate MPs leave parliament after each election, ushering in new faces and hopefuls. 
 
Reinfeldt was re-elected at a party meeting three years ago, which would have also made the question from his leadership so far removed from upcoming elections that one Moderate who spoke to The Local called it "a non-issue". 
 
At Södertörn University, Nick Aylott remained unsure whether proclaiming an heir would do anything to better the Moderates' chances at the poll.
 
"It's possible that a new face at the top could have energized the party and re-awoken public interest and even enthusiasm," he said. "On the other hand, Reinfeldt's great trump card is his track record."
 
"Nothing has gone badly under his watch." 

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

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