?Desperate? government attacks king

The secretary of Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats has attacked King Carl XVI Gustaf for his comments on Sweden’s slow reaction to the Asian tsunami. Yet if Marita Ulvskog hoped that her comments would deflect criticism of the government, these hopes were quickly dashed. Opposition parties and the media condemned the attempt to shift the focus from the government’s actions, with one paper describing the Social Democrats as ‘desperate’. And for Ulvskog the damage was compounded when Göran Persson seemed to distance himself from her comments

Ulvskog was commenting on an interview that Carl Gustaf gave to Dagens Nyheter, where he said that in Sweden, “people often refuse to take responsibility. They are afraid of taking action, as it can mean costs and that you can be held to account later.” This was widely interpreted as an attack on the government, despite the royal press office’s insistence that the king was referring to Sweden in general, and not the government in particular.

Now, with Göran Persson facing heavy criticism, Marita Ulvskog has gone on the offensive. In an interview on Swedish radio, she said that the king had “crossed a line”, and broken the constitutional rule that the monarch shall not get involved in politics. And in a barely veiled threat to the king, she implied that the so-called ‘Torvekov Compromise’ constitutional settlement could be reviewed. Under the compromise, agreed in 1971, the royal family agreed to limit its role to official entertaining, and not to get involved in politics.

By attacking the king at a time when he is more popular than ever, Ulvskog was taking a big risk. Signs that the risk was not paying off came when Göran Persson, asked about Ulvskog’s comments, told reporters that there was no reason to criticize the king, and that he had acted within his rights.

Ulvskog’s outburst seemed to have made a bad situation for the Social Democrats even worse, and Persson’s attempts to soften the blow to the government appeared likely to have a limited effect, with both the opposition and the media on the offensive.

Dagens Nyheter’s Henrik Brors has written a number of comment pieces criticizing the government’s handling of the crisis. Today he wrote that blaming the king was a sign of desperation.

The centre-right opposition parties were scathing of the government’s handling of the affair. Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt said that Social Democrats wanted a “silent democracy”, where nobody could speak out against the government:

“Everyone is supposed to be silent: the royal house, staff at the foreign office, and the opposition,” he said. Jöran Hägglund, secretary of the Centre Party, said “it would have been better and more logical for Marita Ulvskog to have announced that the Social Democrats were going to analyze their own actions during this crisis.”

Even the Social Democrats’ coalition partners have criticized Persson’s attempt to blame civil servants for the government’s tardy response to the catastrophe. Left Party leader Lars Ohly said it was “completely inappropriate” for Persson “to establish a commission [to investigate its handling of the disaster], and then say that he already has the answers.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Sveriges Radio