Scandals of this type tend to die down fairly quickly, says Peter Esaiasson, professor of political science at Gothenburg University. This time, however, it could be different:
“The attacks are so serious, and many people can identify themselves with Reinfeldt’s situation.”
“The Social Democrats are going to find it hard to make moral arguments in the future. And it will be harder for them to conduct a traditional election campaign,” Esaiasson says.
The offending emails were sent by a party worker at Social Democrat headquarters. An internal investigation traced the person on Thursday, but Social Democrats have so far refused to release their colleague’s name or reveal the position he or she holds in the party.
Among the accusations levelled at Reinfeldt in the emails were that he paid labourers cash-in-hand.
Esaiasson makes the point that it is common for parties to try to dig for negative information about their opponents and spread it to the media. There have also been earlier examples of defamatory campaigns against politicians, such as rumours spread in conservative circles that prime minister Olof Palme was mentally ill and undergoing electric shock treatment.
“But in this case we’re talking about fabricated stories that can be linked directly to a party’s headquarters. I don’t know of anything similar in Sweden and it’s almost at the same level as the Watergate scandal.”
The beneficiaries of this campaign will be the Moderates. The Social Democrats have “scored an obvious own goal”, Esaiasson says. Opposition party leaders say they are sure the campaign has been organised from above. Esaiasson is less sure:
“I find it hard to believe that this was sanctioned from higher up, because it was so clumsily executed. This looks like the work of an individual.”
Asked whether the episode reveals something about the culture in Social Democrat headquarters, Esaiasson said that it did “to some extent.”
“The fact that someone has even come up with the idea to do something like this says something about the culture. This is not to say that it is considered acceptable.”