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What you need to know about Sweden's party leaders ahead of the 2018 election

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What you need to know about Sweden's party leaders ahead of the 2018 election
The leaders of the parties that currently hold seats in the Riksdag. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
11:26 CEST+02:00
A dramatic Swedish election in 2014 saw the Social Democrats and Greens form a minority government then narrowly avoid its collapse a few months later thanks to a cross-party agreement with the opposition Alliance, and with Swedish politics only fragmenting more since then, the next election isn't likely to be straightforward either. Here's everything you need to know about the main parties and their leaders in the build-up to September 9th, 2018.

Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterna)

Who: Stefan Löfven

Age: 60

Current role: Prime Minister of Sweden since 2014


Swedish PM Stefan Löfven. Photo: Helena Wande/TT

Background: Formerly the head of one of the country's most powerful unions, IF Metall, Stefan Löfven was persuaded to stand for leadership following record-low poll ratings for the Social Democrats in 2012 and led the party to victory in the parliamentary elections two years later. He started his career as a welder after growing up with an adoptive family in Örnsköldsvik, a small industrial town in northern Sweden. Löfven’s time in office hasn’t been easy: it started with him calling a snap election after his party’s budget was blocked in parliament in late 2014, and though that was cancelled after his centre-left coalition struck a deal with the centre-right Alliance parties, there was little time to rest as he was tasked with guiding Sweden’s response to the record 163,000 people who sought asylum in the country in 2015 at the peak of the refugee crisis.

His government responded by introducing temporary border controls and ID checks at southern borders, reducing the number of asylum seekers coming to the country dramatically. In July 2017 a scandal developed when it emerged that IT workers in foreign countries without the correct security clearance had access to Swedish Transport Agency data, and the result was an opposition no-confidence motion against three of Löfven's ministers. He reacted by producing a cabinet reshuffle that removed two of the ministers in question, but with the opposition insisting they are likely to push ahead with the motion against the third minister who remained, the head of Sweden's government doesn't look likely to have an easy ride towards the election in 2018.

Party: The Social Democrats are the oldest and largest party in Sweden and dominated the political landscape until the 1990s. The party promotes workers' rights and built the modern Swedish welfare state, paid for by progressive taxation. After a crushing defeat in 2006, the Social Democrats continued to lose votes in 2010, particularly from Sweden's urban middle class. But the party bounced back after Löfven took over as leader and returned to power in a coalition with the Green Party following the general election in September 2014.

Some of the party's more controversial policies in their current term have been recognizing Palestine which has contributed to a deterioration in relations with Israel and implementing temporary border controls. Its push for a feminist foreign policy saw relations with Saudi Arabia grow frosty in 2015 meanwhile, resulting in Sweden cancelling a military cooperation agreement with the country.

Number of seats: 113

READ ALSO: Why care about the Swedish government crisis?

Green Party (Miljöpartiet)

Who: Gustav Fridolin and Isabella Lövin

Age: 34 and 54

Current role: Joint Green Party spokespeople and ministers in Stefan Löfven's government


Isabella Lövin and Gustav Fridolin. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Background: Gustav Fridolin was the youngest member of parliament in Swedish history when he was first elected in 2002. He serves as Education Minister in Sweden's current centre-left government and became joint spokesperson for the party in 2011 alongside Åsa Romson, a Stockholm-based lawyer who resigned from her position in 2016 following a series of gaffes. Romson was replaced by Minister for International Development Cooperation and former journalist Isabella Lövin, who also became Deputy Prime Minister and has had a less dramatic time at the helm than her predecessor. Lövin has even gained something of an international reputation for her criticism of US President Donald Trump on abortion rights.

Party: The Greens first won seats in the Swedish parliament in 1988. They had hoped to become the third largest party in the September 2014 elections, but lost out to the nationalist Sweden Democrats. The Greens did, however, enter government for the first time in 2014, after forming a coalition with the Social Democrats. The party is focused on fighting climate change and promotes policies designed to protect the planet for future generation. Their time in government has been shaped most however by a crisis in 2016 that saw then Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan quit over allegations he was keeping company with Turkish extremists, Green politician Yasri Khan resign after he refused to shake a female reporter's hand on the grounds that it violated his Muslim faith, and finally the resignation of co-leader Romson, who referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as "accidents" in a slip of the tongue on one of Sweden’s most-watched breakfast shows.

The Greens have plummeted in the polls and are struggling to take back any meaningful ground despite little controversy since. Recovering by the time the September election comes around will be an uphill battle.

Number of seats: 25

READ ALSO: Many seem to have given up, Swedish Green Party leader says

Moderate Party (Moderaterna)

Who: To be decided

Age: Unknown

Current role: Incoming party leader and head of the centre-right opposition

Background: The first female leader of the Moderates, Anna Kinberg Batra had a tough task taking over from her popular predecessor Fredrik Reinfeldt, who stepped down with high approval ratings after Sweden's general election in 2014. Kinberg Batra by contrast was recently ousted by her party after her and the party's popularity dipped in the polls, and the Moderates now have a leadership battle on their hands with just a year to go to the 2018 elections. Former Social Security Minister Ulf Kristersson currently appears to be the frontrunner, after former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was "too old" to stand.

Party: The Moderates' traditional focus on law and order issues, job creation and cutting taxes does not appear to be resonating to the degree that it once did as Sweden's political climate fragments.

Breaking a Swedish political taboo by softening the stance towards the far-right Sweden Democrats in early 2017 backfired and weakened their position after coalition partners the Centre Party and Liberals came out in opposition of the move, as did former party leader Kinberg Batra's threat to topple the current Swedish government by submitting a rival budget before the 2018 election, which the two other parties also publicly opposed. The Moderates are Sweden’s biggest opposition party at the moment, but with recent polls showing them battling for popularity with the Sweden Democrats, they may not be for much longer.

Number of seats: 83

READ ALSO: Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats overtake Moderates

Centre Party (Centerpartiet)

Who: Annie Lööf

Age: 34

Current role: Party leader


Annie Lööf. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Background: Annie Lööf became MP for Jönköping County in southern Sweden when she was just 23 years old and was selected to become leader of the party in 2011. She has a degree in law and lives in Nacka, Stockholm. A former Minister for Enterprise in the Fredrik Reinfeldt-led Alliance government, since returning from a six-month parental leave break in 2016 Lööf has experienced a surge in popularity, with several polls in 2017 placing her as the political leader most Swedes have confidence in.

Party: The Centre Party has rural roots, emerging from Sweden's Farmers' League, which was set up more than one hundred years ago, and while agricultural and environmental issues remain key concerns alongside allowing local communities to make their own decisions, the party has tried to attract urban voters more recently by promising help for small businesses and criticizing tough work permit rules for foreigners.

A Statistics Sweden survey published in June 2017 gave the Centre Party 11.3 percent of the vote, their highest figures in a Statistics Sweden poll in 27 years. Key to their recent revival has likely been a clearer distancing from the polarizing Sweden Democrats than the Moderates that has allowed them to nab more centrist centre-right voters from their coalition partner, as well as the popularity of Lööf. Whether the party can translate that into meaningful gains in the election remains to be seen.

Number of seats: 22

READ ALSO: Why the Centre Party could be key in the next Swedish election

The Liberals (Liberalerna)

Who: Jan Björklund

Age: 55

Current role: Party leader


Jan Björklund. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Background: A former major in the Swedish army, Jan Björklund first became a member of parliament in 2006. Originally from the west coast of Sweden, he now lives in Bromma in Stockholm with his wife and two sons. He cries easily, makes good pancakes and enjoys listening to Frank Sinatra, according to the Liberals' website. In mid-2017 Björklund faced a challenge for his position as Liberal leader from Birgitta Ohlsson, a prominent party member and former EU minister in the Reinfeldt government, but most of the party's heavyweights backed the 55-year-old and he remains in his position for now.

Party: The Liberal Party is part of the centre-right Alliance. Its core supporters are middle-class voters. The party is focused on improving education, encouraging more open immigration, joining Nato and nuclear expansion. It also promotes what it calls “feminism without socialism”, aiming to secure equal opportunities by investing in work sectors dominated by women and encouraging men to share childcare responsibilities. The party has had a tough time in the polls in recent years, with an approval rating of 3.5 percent below the Riksdag watermark registered in April 2015, and despite managing to improve to around the 5-6 percent mark in 2017, they have not been able to capitalize on the trouble coalition partners the Moderates are experiencing in the same way the Centre Party have. It used to be called 'Folkpartiet' ('the people's party') up until last year, when it changed its name to 'Liberalerna' 

Number of seats: 19

READ ALSO: Swedes should be on Mars by 2030, Liberals say

Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna)

Who: Ebba Busch Thor

Age: 30

Current role: Party Leader


Ebba Busch Thor. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Background: A graduate in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University, Ebba Busch Thor grew up in the nearby town of Gunsta and has been active in the Christian Democrats since 2006. She was working as councillor in student city Uppsala when she was chosen to take over as party head from Göran Hägglund in April 2015. The youngest leader of a Swedish political party, Busch Thor is married to Niklas Busch Thor, a football player for IK Sirius FK.

Party: The Christian Democrats have been trying to move away from their religious roots and build wider support, but the party is struggling to gain popularity. It only just reached the four-percent threshold needed to secure seats in the Swedish parliament in the last general election in September 2014, and polls in 2017 suggest it could fall below the watermark in the forthcoming election. Areas their policies focus on include welfare for the elderly and a hard-line stance on extremism.

Number of seats: 16

READ ALSO: Sweden Democrats not racists, Ebba Busch Thor says

Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna)

Who: Jimmie Åkesson

Age: 38

Current role: Party leader


Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Ari Luostarinen/TT

Background: An early entrant into politics, Jimmie Åkesson began his career as a city councillor in his home town, Sölvesborg in southern Sweden, after joining the party's youth wing as a teenager. After leading the Sweden Democrats to a record 12.9 percent of the vote in the September 2014 election, he took a break due to chronic fatigue before returning in 2015 but it does not appear to have harmed his popularity, with opinion polls in mid-2017 placing voter confidence in Åkesson at around the 25 percent mark.

Party: The nationalist Sweden Democrats were founded in 1988, evolving from far-right organizations with neo-Nazi roots. In recent years the party has worked to tone down its image as a racist and extremist group. However, cutting immigration remains the party's main goal.

Sweden's third biggest party following the 2014 election, the Sweden Democrats had the chance to be kingmakers in parliament and sparked a government crisis shortly after the vote when they helped block the centre-left coalition’s budget proposal. An unprecedented deal between the Social Democrat-Green government and the centre-right opposition ended the crisis and froze Åkesson's party out for the time being, but a recent thawing towards them from the Moderates show that they still have the capacity to influence even without formal power. The polls suggest they will be an influence in the future too: just over a year ahead of the 2018 election they polled as Sweden’s second largest party.

Number of seats: 49

READ ALSO: How significant is Moderate MP's defection to Sweden Democrats?

Left Party (Vänsterpartiet)

Who: Jonas Sjöstedt

Age: 52

Current role: Party leader


Jonas Sjöstedt. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Background: Born in Gothenburg, Jonas Sjöstedt is a former metal worker who has also worked in Strasbourg and Brussels as a member of the European Parliament and in New York where he wrote for left-wing magazines and newspapers. He has been a member of the Swedish parliament since 2010. Sjöstedt is married to Swedish diplomat Ann Måwe who is part of the Swedish delegation to the United Nations.

Party: As its name suggests, the Left Party is the most left-wing group in the Swedish parliament. It has a long history and described itself as communist until the 1990s. The Left Party has never served in government but usually offers informal support to Social Democrat governments whenever they are in power, although they also often criticize the centre-left on issues they don't see eye to eye on. The party is against the privatization of public companies and supports higher taxes to fund Sweden's welfare state.

Number of seats: 21

Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt initiativ)

Who: Gudrun Schyman

Age: 69

Current roles: Party leader


Gudrun Schyman. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

Background: After leading the Left Party for a decade, Gudrun Schyman helped form the Feminist Initiative in 2005. A candid politician, she has admitted battling with alcoholism and avoiding taxes, and famously burned 100,000 kronor in a protest about the gender pay gap in 2010. She is currently the sole leader of the party after her co-leader Victoria Kawesa stepped down in September 2017 citing other commitments.

Party: The Feminist Initiative calls its ideology "anti-racist feminism" and argues that Sweden's image as a tolerant, equal society is not a reality. It wants women and men to be entitled to the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities. The party also speaks out against racial discrimination and violence and wants to stop all military spending and arms exports by Sweden. It had an historic victory in the European Parliamentary elections in 2014 as Swedes voted in the EU's first feminist party MEP, Soraya Post, but narrowly missed out on winning a seat in the national parliament in September, scoring 3.1 percent of the vote. As of summer 2017 they were polling at around 2.6 percent. It is the largest of the minority parties registered in Sweden. See a full list of registered parties here.

Number of seats: 0

READ ALSO: FI boycotts annual politics week after neo-Nazis are allowed to attend

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