Profile: Mona Sahlin

Sweden's Social Democrats have finally announced their preferred candidate for the position of party leader.

Mona Sahlin (née Andersson) was born in the northern Swedish town of Sollefteå on March 19th 1957. Her family moved to Stockholm in the mid-1960s. By the time she had left the city’s Södra Latin school in 1977 she had already developed a taste for politics.

As early as 1964 she embarked on her first foray into organisational life when she founded the Swedish Barbie Club.

She joined the youth branch of the Social Democrats in 1973 and became involved in the pro-FNL movement during the Vietnam War.

In 1976 she met David Peña at a Social Democrat youth camp. Though Sahlin’s first child, Ann-Sofie, was born two years later, the relationship did not last.

When she was elected to the Swedish parliament in 1982 she was the assembly’s youngest ever member.

It was also in 1982 that she married Bo Sahlin. The couple have had three children – Jenny, Gustav and Johan. Sahlin has talked openly about the tragic death of Johan, who passed away during the first year of his life as a result of heart trouble.

In 1990 Sahlin received her first ministerial post when she was named labour minister under Ingvar Carlsson.

Two years later she became party secretary, a post she held until 1994 when she rejoined the cabinet as equality minister.

Sahlin’s rise to prominence was such that she soon became favourite to succeed Ingvar Carlsson as party leader. After he announced his resignation Sahlin soon became the sole candidate to take over.

That the party would soon receive its first ever female leader seemed little more than a formality.

But it was not to be. At least not yet. In October 1995 a scandal broke that almost ended her political career.

During the ‘Toblerone affair’, as it came to be known, it emerged that Sahlin had purchased a range of goods and services for private use on her ministerial credit card. The chocolate bar that symbolised the scandal was far from the most expensive item on the charge sheet.

She also made thousands of kronor worth of cash withdrawals and paid for private rental cars at her employer’s expense. Sahlin maintained that she intended paying the money back but by then the damage was already done.

In the wake of the initial scandal she was also found to have hired a child minder off the books and had neglected to pay her television licence, offences that cost the careers of two ministers at the beginning of the current government’s term of office.

Unpaid parking and daycare fines were also held up as examples of why she was unfit to lead the land.

Having taken a few weeks off work to consider her options she announced in November 1995 that she was withdrawing her candidacy for the post of party leader. It was only then that Göran Persson stepped up to the breach, before holding on to the top spot until the September 2006 election.

Sahlin gave up her seat in parliament in April 1996, although she did retain her position on the party’s executive committee,

In 1998 she returned to the parliamentary fray. Göran Persson brought her back into the cabinet, where she remained an ever present figure until the party’s election defeat in 2006.

Despite playing her part in successive governments, most recently as minister of sustainable development (2004-2006), many observers considered her days as a major political force to be over.

Even when it became obvious that the Social Democrats wanted a female leader, Sahlin’s troubled past seemed to rule her out of contention.

In fact, during the summer of 2006 she was so far off the pace that bookmaker Ladbrokes was offering odds of 1000/1 on her succeeding Göran Persson as party leader.

But one by one the figures expected to come to the fore announced that they were not interested in leading the party into the 2010 election.

As Margot Wallström, Carin Jämtin, Ulrica Messing and Thomas Bodström all fell by the wayside, the first careful whispers could again be heard extolling the virtues of a certain Mona Sahlin.

Politically she is often regarded as standing to the right of the party divide. She supported Göran Persson’s budget cutbacks in the 1990s, for example, and has proved open to the idea of tax breaks for domestic services.

An argument used in her favour is that she has the capacity to emulate rival Fredrik Reinfeldt by winning voters from the political middle ground.

Eleven years on from the scandal that almost finished her political career Sahlin is reputed to have become absolutely meticulous with her receipts. And she has slowly managed to win over many of the sceptics within the ranks of the Social Democrats.

While the media have debated the ins and outs of her possible candidacy, Sahlin, in true Social Democratic fashion, has remained tight-lipped.

But now the notoriously secretive nominating committee has finally unveiled her as its candidate for election at the March party congress.

Barring a repeat of her previous debacle, Mona Sahlin’s 50th birthday present will be the prize that she has coveted for over a decade.