Next Social Democrat chief ‘need not be a woman’

The next leader of the Social Democrats does not have to be a woman. He or she just has to win the 2010 election, according to an informal poll of leading party representatives carried out by Svenska Dagbladet.

The new election committee to nominate a new party leader held its first meeting yesterday. The committee’s labours will culminate in the election of a successor to Göran Persson on March 18 next year.

After Göran Persson announced that he was stepping down from the position of party leader on the evening of his election defeat a consensus seemed to emerge from the Social Democrats that the next leader would be a woman.

“If we are to have any chance of beating Fredrik Reinfeldt next time round we need to have a woman. A man will not be able for it,” Nalin Pekgul, who heads the party’s women’s organisation, told Svenska Dagbladet in September.

But judging from some of the reactions published in the same newspaper today the pendulum appears to have swung somewhat.

“The most important thing is that we get the best candidate. It is dangerous to make long lists of demands because by the time you have collated all the demands you find that there is no such person,” said Mats Johansson, party chairman for the Blekinge district.

Svenska Dagbladet spoke to chairmen or vice chairmen in each of the party’s 26 districts. It discovered that while the party is ambivalent with regard to the gender of Persson’s successor, most would like to see a sitting member of parliament take over the reins.

This would rule out some of the early favourites, such as EU commissioner Margot Wallström and trade union leader Wanja Lundby-Wedin.

According to Ladbrokes, former justice minister Thomas Bodström currently heads the field, sharing the early running with Lundby-Wedin. But Bodström has now told Svenska Dagbladet that he would turn the election committee down if they came knocking on his door. “I was a minister for six years and six years was enough for me.”

Other names that have been bandied about, and which meet the criteria of parliamentary representation, include: Ulrica Messing, Pär Nuder, Carin Jämtin, Mona Sahlin and Thomas Östros.

Former industry and trade minister Thomas Östros is often mentioned as a potential successor but may be considered too grey on the big day.

Carin Jämtin seems an unlikely choice since she was recently charged with the task of prizing Stockholm back from the Moderates’ solid grip.

Mona Sahlin is still somewhat tainted by a 1995 scandal when she used government money for private purposes. But she refuses to rule out the possibility of heading the party.

When Pär Nuder was named finance minister in 2004 many commentators suggested that he was being groomed for the top position. If offered the job, comments he has made suggest that he would be likely to accept it.

At 38 Ulrica Messing is younger than Reinfeldt. She chairs the parliamentary defence committee and has indicated that she could be convinced to lead the party into the next election.

The possibility that a rank outsider will come to the fore cannot be ruled out. Göran Persson was not among the leading names when he took over from Ingvar Carlsson in 1994.

It is not yet certain when the election committee will present its candidates.

“What is most important is that we find a candidate that the party will get behind and people are happy with. It is of lesser importance whether that happens before or after the Christmas ham,” said Anders Ygeman, a member of the election committee.