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Social Democrat youth leader resigns

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16:24 CEST+02:00
The leader of SSU, the Young Social Democrats, has announced that he is to resign. Ardalan Shekarabi has been under pressure for several months, since it emerged that he used SSU funds to finance his leadership campaign. The funds had been earmarked for an integration project.

Shekarabi, 25, says that his resignation, which will take effect at the organisation's annual conference in the summer, is due to his need to spend more time on his private life and SSU's need for a “fresh start”.

In recent months, the organisation has rarely been far from the headlines. Most recently, there has been controversy over SSU's allegedly inflated membership figures. Several local branches of the Young Social Democrats are facing a police investigation after they reported having more enrolled members than was actually the case.

Political parties' youth movements receive state funding based on the size of their memberships. This means that the allegations, which are currently being investigated by police, could lead to prosecution for fraud.

The controversy over the membership figures has been damaging for Shekarabi, who today tried to distance himself from the actions of local parties:

“As chairman, I am not responsible for the way in which membership figures are reported in local associations,” he told Svenska Dagbladet.

Shekarabi's mistakes have brought more bad headlines for the Social Democrats at a time when the party has been falling in the opinion polls. Earlier this year Expressen reported that Justice Minister Thomas Bodström had appointed Shekarabi to the board of Uppsala's police authority, despite the fact that he was not a Swedish citizen at the time. Swedish citizenship is a prerequisite to serve on a police authority; yet at the time Shekarabi carried only an Iranian passport.

Despite the problems at SSU, Prime Minister Göran Persson, commenting on his resignation, said that he was glad that Shekarabi would remain in his post until the summer. He added that the scandals surrounding SSU had not been his fault.

“Even though he is the chairman of a party youth movement, he's only twenty-five, and is not used to all this media attention,” said Persson.

The search for Shekarabi's replacement could cause yet more embarrasment for the party. SSU is divided into left and right wing factions; while Shekarabi was generally seen as being on the right wing of the organisation, some districts espouse views to the left of the Left Party.

As preparations for the leadership election warm up, leading figures from both factions were pleading for the two sides to compromise.

Jens Lundberg, chairman of the left wing Stockholm district said SSU "cannot afford a leadership battle." His thoughts were echoed by Christoffer Karlsson, chairman of the right wing Östergötland district, who said that the two sides need to "find a common denominator, and use that to go forward to a new age for SSU."

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

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