No clear winner in Swedish party leader debate

Göran Persson faced his chief rival for their first live televised debate on Tuesday night, in a discussion that revolved almost exclusively around tax and unemployment.

Fredrik Reinfeldt used the debate to attack Persson repeatedly for the high number of Swedes who do not go to work, whether due to unemployment, sick leave or early retirement. The Moderate Party leader claimed that Persson’s government was “satisfied that so many people are living on welfare, but has dropped the idea that work is the basis for welfare.”

Reinfeldt claimed that a government led by him would give people influence over their own lives, and make getting a job more worthwhile for “the 1.5 million people who are currently excluded.”

Persson responded that Moderates wanted to “drastically reduce benefits for the sick and unemployed to 60 or 65 percent [of their final salary], in order to pay for tax cuts.”

“But how do you get more jobs by cutting unemployment benefits, and how does a sick person become well if his or her financial situation is made worse,” Persson asked.

Reinfeldt hit back at Persson, saying that he was “always bashing the old right-wing bogeyman, as he learned to do in the SSU,” referring to Persson’s time in the Social Democrats’ scandal-hit youth movement.

The Moderate leader said that the Social Democrats had taken benefits for the early-retired down to 64 percent of final salary. He also claimed that Persson had “given himself a tax cut of over 100,000k kronor.” Persson replied that this was the result of a reversal of tax rises that he had always intended to be temporary.

The debate rarely ventured out of the areas of tax, welfare and unemployment. Persson’s attempt to question the unity of the centre-right alliance appeared to backfire when Reinfeldt attacked the Social Democrats’ reliance on a loose alliance with the Greens and “a Left Party whose leader calls himself a communist”.

Reinfeldt also brought up the question of Persson’s future as the leader of the Social Democrats. At the end of the debate, in an apparent aim to scare the floating voter, Reinfeldt asked whether a vote for Göran Persson was really a vote for Göran Persson, “or is there a risk that we’ll wake up with Pär Nuder?”

The debate came about after much American-style posturing by the parties, which had argued about whether the leaders should sit or stand (they stood), and whether the programme should be led by a man or a woman (both parties requested a female presenter, but SVT refused, and gave the job to seasoned presenter Lars Adaktusson).

Yet after all the fuss, it was hard to see that the debate had made much difference for either side. A poll released just after the debate showed that viewers were split almost equally in their views of the two men. When Sifo asked 1,000 people who they thought had won the debate, 24 percent said Reinfeldt, 23 percent Persson.

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What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party