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SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Social Democrats face chaos as Sahlin departs

Sweden's Social Democrats, for decades the dominant force in Swedish national politics, are facing chaos after leader Mona Sahlin announced her imminent departure over the weekend, with no clear successor to fill her shoes, writes the AFP's Rita Devlin Marier.

Social Democrats face chaos as Sahlin departs

“It’s really chaos…It’s shocking for many Social Democrats,” said Stig-Björn Ljunggren, a political scientist and commentator known to have leftist sympathies.

“It’s rare there are chaotic changes” in the Social Democratic Party, he told AFP, adding he had no idea who could be in a position to lead the party next.

Sahlin announced Sunday she would maintain her position until a special party congress scheduled for March, quitting after only four years at the helm of the party.

“I have played an important role. Now it’s up to others to do so,” she told reporters, calling her decision “fair and right for me and the party.”

The 53-year-old career politician led a three-party left-wing opposition into the September elections in the hopes of becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister.

However, she failed to prevent Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s re-election.

Worse, the Social Democrats, which for most of the 20th century was Sweden’s governing force, suffered a catastrophic defeat and only narrowly maintained their position as the country’s largest party.

For many commentators, the result marked the end of an era.

Although the party initially stood behind Sahlin, with few voices openly criticising her leadership, a portrait of a party in disarray quickly emerged in the Swedish press.

Her departure was thus “partly a surprise” Ljungren said, pointing out that the party traditionally changes leadership in a very routine, “bureaucratic” manner.

The problem for the party is that there has long been a lack of clear challengers for Sahlin’s job — and on Monday, several politicians tipped as possible successors said they were not interested in taking over.

The hugely popular Margot Wallström has repeatedly said she does not want the job.

Wallström who currently serves as the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and is the former vice-president of the European Commission, made it clear Monday that she had not changed her position.

“I intend to complete my current UN mandate which will be evaluated in March 2012,” she said, the Swedish news agency TT reported.

The Dagens Nyheter daily speculated she had her sights set on becoming the UN’s first woman secretary general.

Charismatic former justice minister Thomas Bodström, who came second to Wallström in a poll of Social Democrats’ favorite leadership figures, has also said he is not in the running.

Sahlin, a former minister and vice prime minister, was elected to the party leadership in March 2007.

Her time at the top is unusually short for a Social Democrat, especially when compared to former party heavyweights whose leadership could be measured in decades.

Swedish political legend Tage Erlander led the party — and the country — for 23 years between 1946 and 1969. Olof Palme led it from 1969 until his assasination in 1986, governing Sweden for 11 years during that period.

Sahlin’s predecessor, Göran Persson, led the party for 10 years until he was defeated by Reinfeldt’s centre-right coalition in the 2006 election.

Her departure is “unlike anything the Social Democrats in Sweden have seen before,” said Peter Esaiasson, a political scientist at Gothenburg University.

However, he acknowledged that “at the European level, [this kind of crisis] is nothing new.”

Long synonymous with Sweden’s cradle-to-the-grave welfare state, the party easily garnered around 45 percent of the votes up until the mid-1990s. This year, it won just 30.6 percent.

As for the 2014 vote, “They don’t stand a chance as it looks now,”

Ljunggren cautioned.

“People usually say the party is the pillar of the [Swedish] state,” he said.

Now, he added, it “seems as if it can’t even support its own weight.”

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NATO

PM: Social Democrats could decide on Nato on May 15th

Sweden's Prime Minister has said that her party has brought forward the date for a decision on Nato membership by ten days, meaning a decision could be in place before a state visit by Finland's president in mid-May.

PM: Social Democrats could decide on Nato on May 15th

The decision had previously been tabled for a meeting of the party board on May 24th, but could now be taken at an extra meeting of the Social Democrats ruling committee on May 15th, Magdalena Andersson said at a press conference on Thursday. 

“We will of course discuss the issue and then we can see if we feel ready to take a decision or not,” she said at a Ukraine donors’ conference in Warsaw. 

She said that the security guarantees Sweden has received from the US and Germany for the period between a possible application and full Nato membership were significant. 

“It means a lot if Sweden chooses to send in an application, that we will be safer during the period up until we become members than we otherwise would be,” she said. 

“The party committee can take a decision then,” Party secretary Tobias Baudin he told Sweden’s TT newswire of the May 15th meeting. 

The meeting will come just two days after the Swedish government’s ‘security policy analysis group’, which includes representatives from all political parties, is due to submit its own reassessment of Sweden’s security situation. 

“It depends on what the security policy dialogue shows,” Baudin says of the decision. “Right now meetings in party districts are going at full pace.” 

The May 15th meeting will take place on the Sunday before the week when Finland’s Iltalehti and Sweden’s Expressen newspaper last month reported Finland and Sweden had already decided to jointly announce a decision to join Nato.

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, is due to visit Stockholm on 17th May and 18 May on a state visit, where he will be hosted by King Karl XVI Gustaf.  

The meeting of the Social Democrats’ ruling committee will come shortly after the party holds three digital members’ meetings on security policy, on May 9th, May 10th and May 12th (although these may also be brought forward). 

There is still resistance in the party’s rank and file, with at least three of the party’s powerful leagues still openly opposed to joining: 

  • The Social Democratic Women in Sweden voted last week to continue its opposition to Nato membership.
  • The Swedish Social Democratic Youth League has said it would prefer Sweden to bolster its security through the EU.
  • The Religious Social Democrats of Sweden has said that it believes the decision should not be rushed through at a time of conflict.  
  • The Social Democrat Students’ League has said that it wants to wait until it has seen the security police analysis before taking a decision. 

None of these leagues can block membership, however. It is the Social Democrats’ ruling party committee which is empowered to take the decision. 

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