First party leader debate reveals Sweden's new divisions

TT/The Local
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First party leader debate reveals Sweden's new divisions

This year's first party leader debate was held on Wednesday and it clearly showed that Sweden is in a brand new political landscape.


Debate highlights included Ulf Kristersson, leader of the right-wing Moderates, promising the Left Party's Jonas Sjöstedt that they could collapse Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's government together and Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor going after her old Alliance partners Annie Lööf (Centre) and Jan Björklund (Liberals).
"It was a little unclear who was the government and who was the opposition," Kristersson noted dryly after the debate.
There were few signs that the centre-right Alliance, which was declared dead after the Liberals and Centre chose to throw their support behind Löfven instead of their right-wing allies, would be revitalized. 
Although both Lööf and Björklund have insisted that they will serve as opposition leaders, there was hardly any criticism of Löfven to be heard from either of them on Wednesday.
"You shouldn't play poker"
The debate had perhaps its most lively moment when Left leader Jonas Sjöstedt pressed Kristersson over his threats to topple the new government over disagreements on the highest marginal tax rate (värnskatt).
"Are you serious or are you just bluffing?" Sjöstedt pressed Kristersson. 

Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
The Moderate leader replied that he would indeed be ready to work with the Left to collapse the newly-created government. 
"I'd be happy to topple the government any day, but not over värnskatten. It's good," Kristersson replied.
"You shouldn't play poker holding a pair of twos. There is a risk of being called. You stand there and indicate that you've always liked the tax. You're chickening out," Sjöstedt said.
For his part, Löfven didn't seem particularly fazed by the exchange.
"Those two need to take responsibility for their own actions in the Swedish parliament. I can't walk around being scared," he said afterwards.
From the other side of the political spectrum, Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson appealed to Kristersson to cooperate with his anti-immigration party. 
"The Moderates call themselves liberal-conservative but they don't want to cooperate with conservatives," Åkesson said to Kristersson.
"The problem is that you only like half of our party programme," Kristersson replied, emphasizing that liberalism is just as important to his party as conservatism.

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Åkesson chose not to use his right to reply following either Lööf's or Björklund's speeches. Busch Thor of the Christian Democrats, however, opted to pose questions to both. 
"I notice that Ebba Busch Thor chose to reply to me, but not to Jimmie Åkesson," Lööf noted a bit dryly before addressing Busch Thor's question about environmental taxes.
Busch Thor also opted to question Björklund after his speech, pushing him to guarantee that Liberals will not attempt to reintroduce property taxes. 
"Another path"
Social Democrat leader Löfven began the debate by stating that far-right nationalist forces are growing stronger across Europe.
"Sweden has chosen another path," he emphasized.
The PM used his remarks to tout the strength of the Swedish economy and his belief that the nation is well-positioned to cope with the societal problems that exist.
"The fight for jobs and full employment is always a priority for the Social Democrats," he said.

Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Kristersson, meanwhile, was less bullish about the future, saying that Sweden has a leftist government that lacks ideas.
"We have precisely the same government as before the election, just smaller," he said.
Åkesson used some of his speaking time to take shots at Löfven.
"How do we know that you can rely on what S says during an election campaign?" he asked rhetorically, noting that the Social Democrats made significant concessions in areas like labour law and tax reductions as part of the deal crafted with Centre, the Liberals and the Green Party
The Left's Sjöstedt, who nearly torpedoed the deal that ushered Löfven back into power, attacked the PM for the policy concessions he made as part of what is being called ‘the January agreement'.
"We certainly live in new political times, with S promising higher rents, continued privatization of the public sector and tax policies that increase inequality," he said.


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