PM to be investigated by Constitution Committee

The Swedish Parliament's Constitution Committee (KU) is to examine whether the prime minister broke constitutional law by failing to inform the king of the unfolding crisis in Asia until 36 hours after the news first broke.

As the king revealed in an interview with Dagens Nyheter on Monday, he tried to contact the government as soon as he saw the news on Boxing Day. But he received no formal reports of events until cabinet secretary Lars Danielsson spoke to him on the telephone on the evening of December 27th.

The chairman of the Constitution Committee, Göran Lennmarker, told Swedish Television that this was too late.

“It’s obvious that the head of state should be informed so he can keep up with what’s happening,” said Lennmarker.

According to Sweden’s constitution, “the head of state is to be kept informed by the prime minister of the state’s affairs”.

Olof Ruin, professor of political science at Stockholm University, told Svenska Dagbladet that he was surprised that Göran Persson did not immediately contact the king.

“I am amazed by the passiveness shown by the prime minister and foreign minister,” he said.

The opposition parties, who have so far been reluctant to make political capital from the catastrophe, appear to have woken up following the king’s comments

“It is remarkable that the prime minister and the head of state weren’t talking to each other right from the beginning of this,” said the leader of the Centre Party, Maud Olofsson, while Göran Hägglund of the Christian Democrats made it clear where the responsibility for that lay:

“It should not be the case that the king himself or his colleagues need to seek information,” he told Svenska Dagbladet.

The leader of the Moderates, Fredrick Reinfeldt, told the paper that the king’s revelations paint a picture of “a very slow government”.

In a highly critical leader article, Tuesday’s Dagens Nyheter joined the opposition politicians in placing the blame squarely on prime minister Göran Persson’s shoulders.

“The king seeks contact – and at last got it from the prime minister’s closest man. The head of the Swedish Rescue Services Agency wants to send people and material to Thailand, seeks contact, has to wait a full 24 hours… The travel companies seek contact, have to wait and after two days get a meeting with the foreign office… The foreign office staff in Thailand wait for support, their colleagues in nearby countries wait to be sent… What was everyone waiting for?”

The answer, according to DN, is that everyone was waiting for a clear message from the prime minister.

“The handling of the catastrophe has shown that a rearrangement of the work of the government is required. A reasonable question is then whether prime minister Göran Persson is the right person to run it.”

Luckily for the PM, the tabloid press – for the time being, at least – is focusing on foreign minister Laila Freivalds.

Tuesday’s Expressen revealed that Sweden’s ambassador in Thailand, Jonas Hafström sent two faxes to the foreign office on the day the tsunami struck. In the second of those, sent at 2.30pm Swedish time, he warned that Swedes had died.

“Five hours later,” wrote Expressen, “Laila Freivalds went to the theatre.”

Finally on Tuesday Freivalds set off for Phuket, where many Swedes were based. In another article, headed “She came, she saw, she slept”, Expressen quoted a Swedish man who was helping the rescue workers.

He alleged that when she arrived Freivalds went straight into a meeting with the ambassador. After an hour she came out – and went to bed.

“The time was around 11pm in Phuket and 5pm in Sweden,” the paper pointed out. “Freivalds’ body clock was still on Swedish time.”

Aftonbladet put it to her straight, asking what she had to stay to those who were demanding her resignation.

“It’s not me who should answer that question,” she said.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet