Fierce debate satisfies both sides

Both prime minister Göran Persson and Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt declared themselved the winner after their last televised debate before Sunday's election.

After Reinfeldt had apparently increased his popularity among young voters following the previous debate, Persson made a last appeal to the youth vote by criticising the file sharing law.

“It was just as pacy and spirited as the radio debate the other day,” said Persson after the show was broadcast on SVT.

Reinfeldt was similarly satisfied:

“I’m winning because I’m raising all the key issues so that the Swedish people can decide,” he said.

Persson began the debate by saying Reinfeldt wanted to make pensioners pay more tax than employees.

He accused the opposition Alliance of wanting to introduce a job rebate which won’t help pensioners. Reinfeldt answered by referring to the Alliance’s proposal to give the sick a personal carer.

The debate soon tackled unemployment. The two rivals for the top job wrote on a piece of paper how many people they believe are unemployed. Persson wrote 225,000 and Reinfeldt wrote 400,000. According to Statistics Sweden, whose count has been criticised for not being in line with international measures, the amount is 288,000.

Persson claimed that 550 jobs are being created every day and returned to his regular theme of criticising Reinfeldt for wanting to reduce unemployment benefit. He also stated that the Alliance wants to get rid of the ‘plusjob’ scheme and other labour market measures.

“You’ll take away the employment support for 50,000 people who go to work every day. That’s cruel,” said Persson.

After last Wednesday’s debate on TV4 Persson was criticised for going through the motions and was widely considered by the Swedish media to be the loser.

This time he was more aggressive.

Reinfeldt stuck for the most part to a more reasoned style of discussion and often referred back to the argument that there is still no united alternative to the Alliance.

The debate heated up when Reinfeldt took up the issue of energy policies. He wanted a decision from Persson on how much agreement there was between the Social Democrats and their partners, the Greens and the Left Party, on raising energy prices through a green tax and ‘retiring’ nuclear power.

Persson assured Reinfeldt that he was not planning to push through energy policies which would affect the competitiveness of industry.

“So there will be increased petrol taxes and increased electricity taxes. You care about industry but not about ordinary people – they’ll have to pay more,” said Reinfeldt.

There were more sparks between the two men when the Alliance’s proposal to offer a tax break on household services was brought up. Persson said it would support people who today paid for their domestic services ‘black’, or cash in hand.

Reinfeldt retorted that in fact it would help many immigrant women who were currently outside the social security system to enter the formal labour market.

For the first time, Persson gave his view on file sharing, saying that he wanted to change the law.

“We must make sure that the youngsters who do this downloading must not be seen as criminals. Then we have to address the artists’ copyright in another way,” he said.

However, Persson could not offer any details about how the law should be changed, but said that record companies must adapt to new technology.

“I can understand that we should protect artists, but I have no desire at all to protect record companies.”

While both leaders claimed victory, the first poll after the debate had Reinfeldt as the winner.

A telephone poll of 500 people carried out by Sifo late on Sunday evening gave Reinfeldt a total of 3.6 points out of 5, compared to 3.1 for Persson.

That nevertheless represented an improvement for Persson, whose rating after the first debate was 2.9 compared to Reinfeldt’s 3.7.