Sahlin nominated as Social Democrat leader

Former minister Mona Sahlin has formally accepted an offer to be put forward as leader of Sweden's Social Democratic Party.

In a widely expected move, Sahlin has been asked by the party’s nomination committee whether she wants the job, and she has replied in the affirmative. The committee announced its decision at a press conference at 2pm on Thursday.

The move makes her all but certain to be the leader of Sweden’s largest political party and the country’s most significant opposition politician.

“I want to be leader. After everything I have been through, I am still passionate,” said Sahlin at the press conference.

Sahlin, 49, has emerged in the past few weeks as the only viable candidate to

succeed former prime minister Göran Persson as party leader.

“With the party’s support I will do everything in my power to make this a lively, exciting and inquisitive party, ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead,” said Sahlin.

The party districts that have declared support for Sahlin give her enough votes to be elected at the party’s congress in March. The largest district, Skåne, has said it will not reveal in advance how it plans to vote.

Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he thought the Social Democrats’ secrecy-shrouded selection process was strange.

“There have basically been two criteria – nobody is allowed to talk politics, and the person chosen may not be a man,” he said. He added it was hard to know who Mona Sahlin is:

“I couldn’t count on five fingers what she’s accomplished as a minister in all these years. I actually can’t name a thing,” he said.

Sahlin was not initially viewed in the media as a contender for the job, with European Commissioner Margot Wallström and former foreign aid minister Carin Jämtin the recipients of most popular support. Both women ruled themselves out of contention at an early stage.

Some close observers of the Social Democrats, such as political commentator Stig-Björn Ljunggren, have viewed Sahlin as the strongest contender from the start.

While Sahlin’s ascent to the top job is now all but inevitable, she is not universally popular in her own party. Seen as being on the right of the party, she will be in a good position to drag the party to the new centre ground established by Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Alliance government.

Any attempt to move the party to the right will be fought, however, by many trade unionists and traditionalists.

Sahlin will also have to shake off the associations that still cling to her from the so-called ‘Toblerone affair’ of 1996, during her last attempt to become party leader. In this episode, she was found to have paid for goods and services with her government credit card.

Sahlin’s critics say that the Toblerone episode continues to taint her. Her supporters say that her subsequent long tenure of ministerial posts in the Persson government, most recently as environment and sustainable development minister, show that she has overcome the controversial aspects of her past.