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Media glee as Schyman quits Left Party

This week's Swedological topic: Why is Sweden so hot on gender equality?

The charismatic politician Gudrun Schyman has announced that she is leaving Sweden’s Left Party. According to Expressen, the split comes after increasing “irritation within the party that Schyman has had a completely different agenda in parliament and is only concerned with equality issues”.

The party is currently landsliding in opinion polls. Dagens Nyheter reported that only 6.5% of voters favoured the Left party’s politics in its most recent poll in late November.

The matter was discussed at a “stormy meeting” on Friday, after which Schyman told the party leadership that she would be leaving with immediate effect.

Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt told TT that Schyman’s departure was “a consequence of the communists seizing back the power in the Left Party”.

“This has become a party which excludes sooner than includes,” he added.

But the Left Party’s secretary Pernilla Zethraeus denied that a communist power struggle was at the heart of the affair.

“You need a good imagination to be able to see this from that perspective,” she told Svenska Dagbladet.

Speculation abounds about what she plans to do. She’s already said she’ll stay in Parliament as a “wild card” – much to the chagrin of the Lefts, who want their seat back. Rumours are circulating that she’ll create a Feminist party to attract women voters back to the polls – and DN reported that she’s been feeling out the issue with parliamentary committees.

Gudrun Schyman led the Left Party through its most popular days – in 1998 it won 12 percent of votes for Parliament. Credit largely goes to women who swung over to the Left from the Social Democrats.

To the press, Schyman has said she wants to concentrate on issues of feminism and class differences. Current Left leader Lars Ohly says she could have done that from within the party, and joins the chorus of those believing she’s up to more politics.

“She’s had quite a free hand in the Left party and could have driven her issues as a member of the Left Party. That she’s leaving us can only mean she’s planning on building a new party,” said Ohly to DN.

Ohly and other party spokespeople are quick to point out that the party’s politics – and popularity – does not depend on one person.

Expressen reproduced Schyman’s weekly e-mail to supporters, in which she wrote: “I’m a feminist, first and foremost, and I want my place in Parliament to be used to further issues of feminism, even outside Parliament. Your responses were overwhelming – expressing enthusiasm as well as frustration that we haven’t come so far in our efforts.”

“The reason I’m leaving the Left party is because I don’t think the party alone can break down the patriarchal order of power… Feminist politics need a new way of thinking… From my place in Parliament I intend to continue working in discussions and initiatives without the formal limits that are inherently part of being a member of a political party.”

Schyman’s past is nothing if not colorful. The darling of the Swedish public has certainly tested the patience of voters and Tuesday’s Expressen published a timeline of her career – which may not exactly correspond to her CV.

In 1993 she was chosen as leader of the Left party and throughout 1994 the party’s opinion poll numbers climbed thanks to the Schyman effect. But then from 1996 Schyman was witnessed drunk in public on a number of occasions and was forced to admit to being an alcoholic.

However, that had no effect on her poll ratings and the Left Party’s popularity continued to rise until 2000 – despite the minor accusation in 1999 that Schyman hired a maid without paying social taxes.

2003 was a sticky year as Schyman failed to declare to the tax authorities cab journeys, plane trips and other expenses paid for by Parliament. She stepped down as party leader in January but in October hosted a large birthday bash paid for by the Left party. That resulted in a tax bill of more than 100,000 crowns.

In October 2004 Schyman hit the headlines again in Sweden by proposing a tax on men to pay to help women who are victims of violence by men.

Finally, Schyman is unshackled from the constraints of party membership. Will the headline writers be able to keep up?

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, TT