It was Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt who set the ball rolling on Wednesday in a debate viewed as the launch pad for the respective parties’ campaigns for a general election that is just eight months away.
Reinfeldt laid out three main challenges facing his government if reelected in the autumn: full employment, a higher quality social welfare system, and strong opposition to the dual dangers of drugs and violence.
The Prime Minister billed the election as a straight choice between two alternatives: an experienced Alliance that has successfully navigated a period of economic turbulence versus a left-wing experiment based on “fake accords”, vital parts of which would be sent for official review and postponed until after the election.
Reinfeldt spoke further of the need to empower citizens by continuing to cut taxes while also investing in the social welfare system.
Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin countered that policies enacted by the previous government, led by her own party, were the main reason Sweden had not come off worse from the global financial crisis.
She also rejected claims by the Moderate Party leader that the Red-Green coalition’s pre-election agreements were in any way “fake”, or that their sickness benefits proposals were financially irresponsible.
“What you describe as fake accords are in fact clean-up jobs aimed at reestablishing a decent sickness benefits system. You got your job by saying that there would be more people in work and fewer excluded. The reverse happened, but I don’t call it fake, I call it right-wing politics,” said Sahlin.
Eighteen months have passed since the government first decided to place limits for each link in the chain of Sweden’s welfare and benefits programmes, a move designed to bring as many people back into the workforce as possible.
A report released last week showed that Swedes spent less time on long-term sick leave and more returned to work as a result of the new sick leave rules introduced in 2008. But opponents of the measures say they have created a harsher social climate in which vulnerable citizens risk falling by the wayside.