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Party leaders, not issues, will determine election

AFP/The Local · 19 Aug 2010, 08:24

Published: 19 Aug 2010 08:24 GMT+02:00

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"Swedes generally vote for parties and not for the party leaders," Swedish public radio's political news chief Fredrik Furtenbach told AFP. "But now, when you only have two main candidates, it's a bit like a presidential election."

Recent polls have predicted a tight race between Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's centre-right coalition and the left-leaning opposition coalition led by the Social Democrats' Mona Sahlin.

Reinfeldt secured victory in the 2006 elections by bringing together the right-of-centre Moderate, Liberal, Centre and Christian Democrat parties in a coalition to beat the then-governing Social Democrats.

In a bid to regain power, the Social Democrats -- which have on their own dominated Swedish political life for most of the 20th century -- entered in a coalition with the formerly communist Left Party and the increasingly popular Greens.

That marked an important shift of the political situation in Sweden and a big change for the Social Democrats, who "now have to accept that they are no longer able to be the main player on their own," said Henrik Brors, a political analyst with Sweden's paper of reference Dagens Nyheter (DN).

"This of course changes the situation for voters," he added, pointing out that Swedes now "have two clear-cut alternatives."

When asked to decide between the two alternatives, voters will likely ask themselves which of the two main candidates "is best suited for governing Sweden? ... Who is most competent?" said Jenny Madestam, a political scientist at Stockholm University.

Also describing this year's race as a "presidential election," Madestam said the increased focus on the candidates most likely would benefit the current government, whose chief Reinfeldt has consistently outshone Sahlin in popularity surveys, even when her coalition led voter intentions.

A poll published at the end of June ranked Sahlin ninth out of 11 Swedish party chiefs, falling ahead of only the leaders of the tiny pro-filesharing Pirate Party and of the far-right Sweden Democrats.

A political veteran who aims to become Sweden's first woman prime minister, Sahlin, 53, has led the Social Democrats since 2007 after bouncing back from a scandal that tarnished her career over a decade earlier.

Critics say Sahlin's main problem in the polls is that she has not been a strong leader since taking the top job at Sweden's largest party, but her backers insist she is the victim of a "hate campaign."

Several government ministers have for instance repeatedly brought up her dramatic fall from grace in the 1990s when she was caught purchasing chocolate and other items on her party credit card in the so-called Toblerone Affair.

"The government parties are reducing the electoral debate to a smear campaign by playing on slander, prejudice, and suspicion. The target is Mona Sahlin," a number of her party members charged in an open letter to Dagens Nyheter at the beginning of July.

Sahlin is also facing a threat from within her alliance, with the young co-chair of the relatively small Green Party, Maria Wetterstrand, ranking far more popular and even listed by some observers as a more natural left-wing government leader.

Reinfeldt, 45, who since taking office in 2006 has been criticised for his lack of charisma, has meanwhile worked hard to portray himself as a calm and confident politician.

According to political scientist Madestam, Reinfeldt has to a large extent succeeded in showing himself as a competent prime minister. He has also seen his popularity boosted by Swedes' tendency to opt for stability -- or the party in power -- in times of crisis, she said.

Story continues below…

For instance, Sweden's weathering of the global financial storm and the fact that it is not facing the same debt crisis as many other European countries has benefited the government.

That made up for the hit the ruling coalition's ratings took last year after it introduced widely unpopular reforms of Sweden's generous welfare state by for instance dramatically slashing access to long-term sick leave.

"When the debate goes into economy, it's good for the government," said DN's Brors.

The governing coalition is also trying to win votes by changing its right-wing image and reaching out to voters in the middle and even the left, with Reinfeldt's Moderates going so far as to dub themselves Sweden's only true "labour party."

In a new twist in personal politics, it is Reinfeldt who is taking on the role of "father of the nation," Brors wrote recently, "with his sights set on the Social Democrats' core voters."

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:06 August 19, 2010 by NickM
Sweden has gone the way of all Western liberal democracies. Style over substance. Personalities over politics. This is exactly what the business community wants. Avoid talking about real issues as much as possible and focus on how "nice" the personalities of the leaders are. We all know that the leaders have very little to do with the running of a country when they get in power though - it's the business community that pulls the strings which is why Sweden is moving ever closer to the right.
14:02 August 19, 2010 by zircon
wElcome to my world- blue boy/ girl... This is going to be a lot easier to get into Sweden's politics, than by issues alone, always by far a more complex model.
16:33 August 19, 2010 by rumcajs
For me personaly, SE is one of the best countries in the world and if the most dpminant party in their history has been the Social Dem., they shouldn't be so bad then.

I think most of the "popularity" of the moderates at the moment comes from the fear of ending up like Greeks or Spain due to a Socialist gov. spending too much. So they preffer the Moderates cos somehow they got the rep of saving SE from the crisis, but the truth might be that SE saved it self cos it has a strong economy from the begining of it.

In nearly the rest of EU people live like slaves, with low salaries and expensive housing. They can only pay the housing, food and that's it. They are slaves of the banks with the TV as only fun. No even the theory of bread and circus applies any more cos the circus is missing.

Sweden has manage to control the beat and play the game without ensalaving their people and that's what's needed to keep the same way.

The question is who can do it? Personaly I find the Social Democrats closer to that middle point with the moderates just about there and this is reflected in the last polls where they are racing neck to neck, while some others go for other alternatives they think mught bring some true change, but at the end of the day SE should be happy to be where it is cos the only good change would be a change of the whole global system.
12:08 August 20, 2010 by LeoKinmann

I have to disagree. The downfall of SocDem has nothing to do with Greece or Spain. In fact, most Swedes don't even know these countries are run by socialist governments. The SocDem party under Göran Persson became complacent. They didn't fulfill half of the promises made during elections. The way I see it, it's only fair that Persson was replaced by Reinfeldt in 2006. If a party fails the people, then it's to be replaced, regardless of ideological premises. It's like saying LeBron James is the best basketball player in NBA. However if he can't win a championship title then he's still nobody.

Swedes are much like "slaves" under the inefficient infrastructures built by SocDem. The tax is high. Housing is not only expensive but inaccessible. In cities like Uppsala people have to wait for years in the line to get an apartment. For college students, numerous are forced to drop out each year because they can't find a place to live. And don't even get me started with healthcare. The global system won't change, so we have to adapt to whatever happens outside our borders. To me the center-left bloc is doing exactly the opposite. I dislike Mona Sahlin not because of her personality, but her lack of constructive ideas to transform the society. There are more urgent issues to solve than hiring a few metro-butlers.
10:34 August 21, 2010 by Attestupa
...if it ain't broke, then don't fix it.
23:32 August 21, 2010 by McChatter
Take a good look at Sahlin.

In 2006 the only candidate for the job. No-one else wanted it (Margit Wallström) and some weren't allowed it (Per Nuder).

1) Even Göran Persson thought that she was no good.

2) The Toblerone affair.

3) She thinks that it is "cool" to pay taxes, but, when she had had own business, she made sure that she didn't pay so much in tax.

4) She rates OK as oppostion leader, (good one-liners) but drags long behind Reinfeldt as leader of a block (no policies).

5) She has had 4 years' time to come up with alternatives for the Alliance policies but has still not presented a plausible alternative.

To put it simply: A LOSER.
01:55 August 22, 2010 by calvin_m
"her dramatic fall from grace in the 1990s when she was caught purchasing chocolate and other items on her party credit card in the so-called Toblerone Affair."

Wow, spending billions on no-bid contracts for buddies' companies is not enough to take down a politician in America. Even if Sweden is moving slightly to the right, it is still much better and less corrupt than the business-run United States.
10:55 August 23, 2010 by goober
The real problem with Mona and the gang is that they have had decades in power to fix welfare, pensioners support, hospitals, schools, transport, re-newable energy..........the list is endless. However, despite all the years we were not living in a socialist utopia.

I am so tired of seeing these people now all over the TV screen saying what they will do if they win. If they were unable to fix the problems in 60 years I can not see why they would be able to fix it in one mandate period.
01:03 August 28, 2010 by rugla
What is the difference between a cat fish and a ( Mona S) social democrat? One is a scum sucking bottom dweller, the other is a fish!
13:13 September 2, 2010 by Tiddler
It makes not a blind bit of difference, many heads of the same monster / puppet master, all doing the master's bidding.

Politics is the art of deceiving the people into thinking they have a choice.

In the last 50 years of democracy has the gap between rich and poor diminished?

Has life for the bottom 90% improved, and I don't mean inventions because inventions happen more quickly without government interference.

Life hasn't improved for the bottom 90%, up to the eyes in lifelong debt to maintain a lifestyle for their family in a 2 room 50 sq mt apartment. Suffering oppressive regulation, constant interference and with obscene fines for heinous victimless crimes such as parking without a ticket.

Debt slaves until the day they die, unless the system of "money as debt" is overturned.
00:24 September 5, 2010 by Zack of Sundsvall
need more experience to take us to maturity in democracy!
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