Leaders in final plea to voters

Sweden's party leaders on Friday night made a final attempt to in turns inspire, scare and cajole voters into giving them their support, as they turned up for the last televised debate before Sunday's election.

Jobs, as usual, were the hottest subject for the seven party leaders as they debated on SVT. With polls predicting a close election, the parties were battling for every vote.

Another topic that got the leaders hot under the collar was family policy. The ruling red-green bloc battled with the opposition Alliance to convince viewers of whose family policies best promoted equality. Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund pointed to the Alliance’s proposal to give parents who stay at home with their children a monthly allowance.

Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt pointed to the Alliance’s ‘equality bonus’, which gives a 3,000 kronor tax break if the parent with the lowest wage works.

But Green Party spokesman Peter Eriksson said that the allowance for stay-at-home parents meant that more women would stay home and mind the kids, adding that the equality bonus would not cancel out the effect.

“The Right wants to introduce a housewife system,” he said. Lars Ohly, leader of the Left Party, agreed, saying that the proposal was a “woman trap”. Both the Green and Left parties want longer parental leave.

Ruling Social Democrat prime minister Göran Persson warned that the parental allowance would take money from local authorities and reduce the quality of pre-schools.

As well as parents, the parties were keen to attract the elderly. Both blocs said that the poorest older citizens’ quality of life should improve. The Liberals’ Lars Leijonborg said it was important that pensions were raised when the state can afford it, although did not present a concrete plan from the Alliance to raise pensions.

Persson said that housing benefits for pensioners would rise under the Social Democrats, and accused the Alliance of wanting to introduce a pensioner tax of 500 kronor. This led to loud protests from the Alliance: Persson was pointing to an Alliance proposal to reduce tax on earned income by 500 kronor a month – a tax reduction that will not apply to tax on pensions.

As the debate shifted to jobs, Christian democrat leader Göran Hägglund accused the prime minister of following policies that had led to mass unemployment.

“All your policies are based on the idea that people should not be able to afford to be unemployed. You want to increase the employment rate by creating servant jobs.”

As in a number of earlier debates, Persson continued to talk over his permitted time, so Hägglund challenged him to shut up and wait for his turn.

Fredrik Reinfeldt accused Persson of only wanting to reduce taxes for the rich, and reminded him that the Social Democrats had abolished inheritance and gift tax.

“One group for whom you never reduce taxes are those who earn least,” he said.

But Persson defended high taxes, saying they paid for welfare, which he claimed evens out the differences between people. He said the Alliance wanted to make things worse for the unemployed, wanted lower wages and wanted a “maid deduction” for domestic services.

The Centre Party’s Maud Olofsson reacted strongly to his reference to “maid jobs.”

“What kind of view is that of people who clean homes and offices?”

The red-green parties gave no answer to the question of how they would form a government if they win on Sunday. The Green and Left parties insisted they would demand a coalition government. Persson pointed to the fact that the Social Democrats have ruled Sweden with minority governments for nearly seventy years.

“We want another chance,” he said.