Much of the discussion focused on the labour market, a familiar battleground for the Moderates and Social Democrats.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt kicked off the debate by posing three questions to the new leader of the opposition.
“What do you plan to do? How do you plan to do it? And who do you plan to do it with?” he asked.
Reinfeldt added that he did not expect an immediate answer to questions “to which all of Sweden wants answers”.
Sahlin, who has led Sweden’s largest party since March, entered the debate with a rejection of the government’s policies with regard to unemployment benefits.
“More and more people are going to alternate between work and study. Strong unemployment insurance funds give people the courage to readjust.
“Those who are furthest from the labour market have a duty to educate themselves and a right to expect that society will be there for them” she said.
Reinfeldt outlined measures undertaken by the government to get more people into employment and criticized Sahlin for failing to talk about job creation.
“It’s always the same, it’s back to benefits,” he said.
Sahlin was also involved in a war of words with Reinfeldt’s Centre Party coalition partner, Maud Olofsson.
“They have changed party leader but it’s the same old politics. Maybe that’s not so strange considering the fact that Mona Sahlin could always be seen behind Göran Persson,” said Olofsson.
Sahlin countered that it was no mean feat to make oneself visible behind her predecessor. She then dealt with the issue of the change in party leadership.
“We don’t change party just because we change party leader. Reform denotes self-criticism rather than political change,” she said.
Despite the fact that its leader Lars Ohly was in attendance, the Left Party was represented at the debate by Alice Åström. The woman who once challenged Ohly for the party’s top spot spoke of an alternative political route for Sweden.
“There is another possible path to the left that involves investment in the welfare state and a stop for privatization. Our neighbour Norway has shown that there is another way to develop,” said Åström.
Fredrik Reinfeldt took the opportunity to praise Lars Leijonborg, who recently announced his resignation as leader of the Liberal Party.
“He has played a key role in the formation of the Alliance,” said the prime minister.
Speaking at his 33rd and final party leader debate, Leijonborg looked back over his time at the helm.
“The long years in opposition was not a time spent in the wilderness,” he said, recalling the 1990s as a golden age of liberalism in which the Social Democrats struggled to contend with the Liberal Party.
As examples, Leijonborg mentioned strides made in the area of equality, the growth of private schools and the emergence of private radio and television stations.