“Persson to resign” as Social Democrats slump

"Persson to resign in the Autumn." That was the dramatic headline in Wednesday's Expressen as criticism of the prime minister, Göran Persson, and his government intensified and a new poll showed Social Democrats' popularity at a four year low. Meanwhile, the four party conservative alliance just seems to get stronger. The feeling is that something drastic needs to be done if the government is to avoid defeat at the next election in September 2006.

A poll published by Sifo yesterday showed that only 33% of voters support the Social Democrats, compared to 51% support for the conservative alliance formed by the Moderates, Centre Party, Liberal Party and Christian Democrats. The conservatives have recently achieved unprecedented levels of unity and organisation, which seems to be paying dividends.

According to Expressen, Persson’s alternatives are to resign before the 2006 election and give his successor a chance to mount an effective campaign; to resign after defeat in 2006; or to pursue his original plan and resign in 2008 two years after an election victory.

With more and more figures within the party willing to openly criticise Persson, Expressen senses the candidates are getting into position for a leadership contest. The paper says it’s already too late for him to leave at the top and staying can merely further damage his place in the history books.

There’s a groundswell of support within the Social Democrats for the next party leader to be a woman. The leading candidate is Margot Wallström. She’s popular, but it’s not certain whether she’s prepared to give up her job as an increasingly respected EU commissioner.

Another leading candidate would be Mona Sahlin. She was in a similar position ten years ago before being forced out of the reckoning following accusations of financial irregularities. Expressen isn’t sure whether she’s prepared to push for the top job again.

Finance minister Pär Nuder is the leading male candidate. He’s thought to be Persson’s favoured successor and is the most likely winner if a quick change of leader is called for.

Aftonbladet offer nine reasons for the Social Democrats’ current predicament. These include policy problems in the areas of unemployment, tax and welfare. Nuder and Persson both said last month that they wanted to increase taxes, although Sweden already has the highest rates in the EU. The conservative alliance have taken the initiative in the welfare debate, where the government has been seen to meekly follow suit.

Another important factor is the stinging criticism meted out to the government and Persson himself following the tsunami disaster.

Persson has also suffered a series of personal setbacks. He’s given the impression of being threatened by the popularity of Wallsträm and barring her from participating in the election campaign. His much heralded government re-shuffle last summer is generally regarded as a flop. And his recent purchase of a 12.5m kronor farm was heavily criticised as going against the tradition of moderation set by previous socialist prime ministers.

Many of the criticisms being levelled at Persson are now conveniently collected and bound in a new book out today called “Makten framför allt” (Power above all). Sixteen leading commentators give their often acidic views of Persson’s leadership style and lack of vision. Persson’s style, according to the book, is built around the pursuit of power rather than of any ideological or policy goals. Former government insider, Ursula Berge, writes:

“Basically we know nothing about what Göran Persson stands for as prime minister. Oh, except for the fact that he’s against the Holocaust.”

Christer Isaksson, press secretary to former Social Democrat prime minister, Ingvar Carlsson, believes Persson is determined to hang on until at least 2010. That would mean a premiership of 14 years. Isaksson writes:

“He wants to be a legend.”

The Social Democrats have also been severely damaged by a number of recent scandals. Member of parliament, Ola Rask, was accused of supplying his family with various flats and Ardalan Shekarabi, chairman of the young social democrats organisation SSU, is fighting off suggestions that he appropriated SSU funds for his own leadership campaign.

Shekarabi is now in trouble again. He’s been forced to resign from the Uppsala police board as he failed to fulfil two key criteria: being a Swedish citizen and resident in Uppsala. Shekarabi was initially appointed over two years ago, but the revelations came as news to the police board’s Social Democrat chairman, Staffan Yngve:

“Wasn’t Ardalan a Swedish citizen? I had no idea. We assumed he was Swedish because he’s been here so long… He’s just informed me that he’s resigning due to the fact that he’s moved to Nacka.”

Cecilia Wickström, the board’s Liberal vice chairman, seemed surprised at the mess:

“Dear oh dear. I’m shocked that Staffan Yngve didn’t check these things. And it’s extremely reprehensible of Shekarabi not to inform us of his citizenship.”