“Thank you, thank you. We won’t back down,” Juholt said after his formal appointment repeatedly quoting the words of US musician Tom Petty.
“We believe in a society that raises an umbrella over those who stand in the rain… It will take time to regain the faith and support of the electorate. But I promise, we won’t back down.”
48-year-old Juholt from Oskarshamn in southern Sweden was confirmed as the successor to Mona Sahlin in what the party hopes is the beginning of an era of renewal following two crushing election defeats.
The vote was little more than a formality after the announcement on March 11th that the party’s nomination committee had plumped for the relatively unknown, and decidedly unexpected, Juholt.
The mustachioed 15-year Riksdag veteran has never held a ministerial position and until Friday his perhaps most high profile role has been the chair of the parliament’s defence committee.
Mona Sahlin opened the congress at Stockholm’s new Waterfront conference shortly after lunch with a farewell address to the party which she has led for four years and for whom she was first elected as a member of parliament in 1982.
“At last, the work for the party will return to normal. At last, we can soon roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Sahlin said, referring to the end of the long and difficult task of finding a new party leader.
“Today I hand the toolbox over to you,” she said.
In a speech to the party’s advisory committee in December, Sahlin slammed the election campaign complaining that “we were not successful in washing away the image of the Social Democrats as the party for benefits”.
But Friday’s speech was dedicated instead to the more upbeat themes of hope and responsibility, she said.
Sahlin directed the final moments of her speech to her successor.
“You have a tough task. I wish you all success and happiness. The expectations on you are great,” she said.
The congress will continue until Sunday and during the weekend Carin Jämtin is expected to be appointed as new party secretary.
The highlight of the weekend will be the inaugural speech by the new leader in which he will present his vision for how the party will address its slide and attempt to regain its place at the head of Swedish politics.