Persson gets thumbs down after debate

Sweden’s seven parliamentary leaders met on TV on Thursday night, debating everything from jobs to family policies, hoping to sway a few more votes before Sunday’s election. And things appeared to go badly for prime minister Göran Persson, with Friday's papers almost unanimously critical of his efforts.

The opposition Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt kicked off by promising to keep Sweden’s economy moving forward, but said he was troubled by the “massive unemployment.”

“The problem is that there just aren’t enough jobs new jobs coming that are long term,” he said.

Prime Minister Göran Persson, whose Social Democrats have been deeply criticized by the opposition Alliance bloc during the past few months regarding unemployment levels, was irritated by the remark and said, “That is miserable thing to listen to.”

Persson talked about the Alliance’s policies, and what he called an attack against unemployment benefits, which he called “unpleasant far-right policies.”

“We are actually four parties here that have come up with job-creating policies, but you (the three left bloc parties) give your individual messages,” the Alliance said.

The headlines on Sweden’s two largest tabloids left little room for doubt as to who had won, and will have made uncomfortable reading for the prime minister. Aftonbladet’s front page accused Persson of ‘bullying’ Reinfeldt behind the scenes at TV4, by asking him whether he had gone up in weight.

Expressen showed photos of Persson leaving TV4, accompanied by the headline: “Persson flees by the back door after TV fiasco.”

The inside pages were scarcely better for the Social Democrats. Expressen’s Friday editorial summed up the mood for many Swedes who want to change government.

“Göran Persson has had 12 years to put into effect everything he wants in Sweden,” the editorial said. “If he hasn’t done it in 12 years, he can’t learn to do it during the next four.”

Even Sweden’s Aftonbladet (which is owned by union group LO — the group that helps bankroll the Social Democrats) was critical of Persson’s harassment of Liberal Party head Lars Leijonborg, dragging up the computer spying scandal that involved several Liberal Party officials.

“The Prime Minister went too far when he accused Lars Leijonborg of having been in on the Social Democrat intranet and read their documents,” said Lena Mellin, Aftonbladet political writer. “Göran Persson essentially accused the Liberal Party leader of committing a crime. That is serious.”