Reinfeldt faces deluge of criticism

Reinfeldt faces deluge of criticism
Photo: Björn Larsson Roswall/ Scanpix
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt faced a deluge of criticism Friday over his leadership abilities after the latest in a string of scandals capped a stormy first year in power for the centre-right government. On Friday he was coming under fire again after it was revealed that Nicola Clase, who is temporarily replacing State Secretary Ulrica Schenström, had paid under the table for a carpenter.

Political scientists, editorialists, the opposition and even members of Reinfeldt’s own government were on Friday criticizing his crisis management skills, making matters worse for the government that has consistently struggled in the polls since winning September 2006 elections.

The resignation on Wednesday of Schenström, Reinfeldt’s closest aide, came after she was photographed kissing a TV4 journalist during a wine-fuelled evening at a Stockholm bar. It later emerged that she was on call for the government’s crisis management organization.

Schenström’s resignation follows the loss of three ministers during Reinfeldt’s first year in power.

Ulf Bjereld, professor of political science at Gothenburg University, told The Local that the string of resignations was a symptom of the fact that “the non-socialist parties do not have experience in governing.”

“They do not understand how their pasts will come under scrutiny. Many of those recruited by Reinfeldt are PR consultants, and they don’t understand how politics works,” he said.

Bjereld said that both Reinfeldt and Schenström could have handled the initial criticism better.

“When Aftonbladet first revealed the night at the bar, Reinfeldt and Schenström should have spoken out. Many journalists thought it was arrogant that they didn’t answer questions,” he said.

Sweden’s newspapers said on Friday that the prime minister had failed to impress.

“During his (one year) in power his abilities have been tested on several occasions and so far the results cannot be described as inspiring confidence,” the country’s biggest daily Dagens Nyheter said in an editorial on Friday.

“The main question concerns his leadership and judgement,” it said.

Reinfeldt has faced an uphill battle from day one, pursuing economic policies that have angered many in the traditionally Social Democratic welfare state, including abolishing wealth tax and granting tax breaks on domestic services while cutting back on unemployment benefits.

Two of his cabinet ministers were forced to resign within weeks of their appointment over scandals in their personal finances.

His defence minister recently quit because of an internal dispute over cutbacks, and controversy has dogged Foreign Minister Carl Bildt over his shares in companies with oil and gas operations in Russia and Sudan.

Schenström played a key role in Reinfeldt’s staff. He has rarely been seen in public without her and she is largely credited with helping him win the 2006 election that ousted the Social Democrats after 12 years in power.

Reinfeldt is described as cool, calculating and often monotone, while the energetic and extrovert Schenström was seen as a perfect complement.

He described her departure as “a personal tragedy for us both.”

While no one is calling for his resignation, regional daily Östersunds Posten said in its editorial that Reinfeldt would have been fired by now if he had been the head of a company.

“The business sector would never have accepted so many scandals and failures in the human resources department,” it said.

And there seemed no end to the embarrassment for the beleaguered Reinfeldt: tabloids reported on Friday that the woman temporarily replacing Schenström had illegally paid carpenters under the table to renovate her house.

Social Affairs Minister Göran Hägglund, the leader of the junior coalition partner Christian Democrats, said the slew of scandals was hurting the government.

“It doesn’t exactly help people’s faith in us and we shouldn’t be involved in this kind of stuff,” he said, adding that it “drained energy” from the government’s work.

A Demoskop poll published in the daily Expressen showed that almost a third of those questioned, 28 percent, said they had lost confidence in Reinfeldt because of the Schenström scandal.

The leader of the opposition Green Party, Peter Eriksson, has meanwhile demanded that Reinfeldt explain publicly how Sweden’s emergency preparedness was organised on the night in question for Schenström.