Social Democrat in-fighting rocks Stockholm council

A rift among the ruling Social Democrats in Stockholm's city council has led to speculation that the mayor, Annika Billström, is close to losing her job.

Billström recently fired the director of the Stockholm water utility. The protests from her (the director’s) supporters, members of the workers’ council, culminated in an e-mail from former Stockholm politician Mats Hulth, in which he threatened political action.

“I’m completely furious,” said Billström in an interview with Swedish radio. The director was not granted freedom from responsibility by the utility’s auditors, which Billström sees as cause for firing.

“It’s quite serious and as a leader, I cannot go along with letting political directors or bosses get away with that,” she said.

Billström wants no less than prime minister Göran Persson to step in. For the record, he says thanks but no thanks.

“I might be tempted to step in if I’m asked,” he said with a laugh. “But seriously, I hope they work this out themselves.”

Though Mats Hulth didn’t respond to media requests, the secretary for the workers’ council, Tomas Rudin, said it’s a longstanding personal conflict between Billström and Hulth.

Billström said there are two wings of the workers’ council and points the finger at the vice finance minister for the county, Dag Larsson.

Larsson agreed that the conflict seems to be personal, and it’s not a great political divide.

“There are conflicts in every large organization. We’re about 10,000 registered social democrats in Stockholm and sometimes we step on each other’s toes. But in this case, she [Billström] has named names in newspapers and the like. We usually don’t do that in the Social Democratic party.”

Expressen speculated that this conflict could bring about the end of Billström’s career.

“She was threatened by her fellow party members during a crisis meeting late last night,” said the tabloid.

“She got a serious warning,” said an unnamed source. “One more slip and she’s out.”

An editorial in Dagens Nyheter predicted that Annika Billström’s demise won’t be so quick.

Billström herself doesn’t shy away from conflict – or simply cannot avoid it. She was unanimously elected to her post as head of the finance committee in the city council in 2002 but then rumours started of election fraud.

And her support of the much-maligned congestion fee for drivers in Stockholm’s city centre has placed her at the heart of one of the city’s fiercest debates for years.

Dagens Nyheter predicted that she has less than a year left in her term; her true fate will be determined in the election of 2006.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, SR