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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

PROFILE: Who are the lead contenders in Sweden’s general election?

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson, and far-right leader Jimmie Åkesson face off as the three main candidates in Sunday's general election.

PROFILE: Who are the lead contenders in Sweden's general election?
Posters from the Social Democrats and Moderates in central Stockholm. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

‘Bulldozer’ PM vying to keep the left in power 

Magdalena Andersson came to power in November 2021 with the aim of breathing new life into the Social Democrats and ended up leading the charge for the nation’s historic Nato membership bid. Sweden’s first woman prime minister despite the country’s reputation as one of the most feminist in the world, the 55-year-old replaced Stefan Löfven after he retired from politics.

The former swimming champion served as finance minister for seven years, earning the nickname “The bulldozer” for her blunt manner, which can rub some the wrong way in a country deeply attached to consensus. Initially hesitant about joining Nato, Andersson made up her mind several weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, convincing her party to abandon its longstanding opposition after two centuries of Swedish military non-alignment.

“She has managed to maintain, and even strengthen, the party’s position and voter support,” political scientist Ulf Bjereld said.

Often clad in navy suits with her straight blonde hair tucked behind her ears, Andersson has campaigned with the slogan “Sweden can do better”.

She has vowed to defend Swedes’ cherished welfare state and pursued the party’s toughening stance on immigration. “Integration has failed”, she said in April after immigrant youths clashed with police.

On the international scene, her thorniest task has been negotiating with Turkey. Ankara has threatened to block Sweden’s Nato application, accusing
Stockholm of harbouring Kurdish “terrorists”. A first obstacle was lifted in June, but Turkey has yet to ratify Sweden’s membership in the Atlantic alliance. If she loses the election, she will become Sweden’s shortest-serving prime minister since 1936.

Prime Minister and party chairman Magdalena Andersson, the Social Democrats, spoke at Almedalen during the party’s half day. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The conservative welcoming the far-right

Her main challenger for the prime ministership, conservative Moderates Party chief Ulf Kristersson hopes to end the Social Democrats’ eight years in
power. The 58-year-old is gambling that his historic welcoming of the once-pariah far-right Sweden Democrats into the right-wing fold will pay off and supply the majority he needs in parliament.

A former gymnast with horn-rimmed glasses and clean-cut looks, Kristersson is making his second attempt to become prime minister.

After the 2018 election, he was given a shot at forming a government but failed to secure a majority. The Moderates’ and their traditional centre-right allies refused to collaborate with the Sweden Democrats, who were then considered political “pariahs”.

By December 2019, Kristersson agreed to hold exploratory talks with the far-right. Their cooperation has deepened since then, and the Christian
Democrats and, albeit to a lesser extent, the Liberals have followed suit.

His critics, including Centre Party leader Annie Lööf, have since accused him of “selling out” to the far-right, recalling his promises to never do so.
Kristersson defends the tie-up as “my side of politics”.

A Tintin fan with a degree in economics, Kristersson wants to introduce a cap on Sweden’s generous social benefits to give people more incentive to
enter the labour market. A second failure to become prime minister could spell the end for him as party leader.

Ulf Kristersson makes his speech at the Almedalen festival in Visby, Gotland. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Nationalist Åkesson leads far-right in from the cold

In 17 years as party leader, Jimmie Åkesson has steered the far-right Sweden Democrats from pariah status to heavyweights whose support is indispensable if the right-wing bloc wants to govern. With his impeccably coiffed brown hair, glasses and neatly-trimmed beard, the casually-dressed 43-year-old looks like your average Swede.

That’s par for the course for someone who transformed an often-violent neo-Nazi movement known as “Keep Sweden Swedish” into a nationalist party with a flower as its logo.

“He wants to give the impression that he’s an ordinary guy … who grills sausages, talks normally and goes on charter trips to the Canary Islands,” Jonas Hinnfors, a political science professor at Gothenburg University, told AFP.

His party, which first entered parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of the ballots and is now polling around 20 percent, has drawn voters from both the
conservative Moderates as well as the Social Democrats, especially among working class men.

The far-right could for the first time be part of a right-wing coalition in parliament. Åkesson once said Muslims were “the biggest foreign threat since World War II” and the party previously lobbied for Sweden to quit the European Union.

But the party has over the years tried to tone down its rhetoric and policies, like other nationalist parties in Europe.

Åkesson has been credited with his party’s meteoric rise, but his success has come at a price. In 2014 he admitted he was addicted to online gambling and went on six-month sick leave for burnout.

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson speaks to The Local after his summer speech in his home town of Sölvesborg. Photo: Richard Orange/The Local

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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Elects: New finance minister under fire after first long interview

Hej,

Elisabeth Svantesson has given her first long interview as finance minister, speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet daily just days after she presented her first budget on behalf of Sweden’s new, right-wing government.

The government has already faced accusations of deprioritising the climate crisis, and Svantesson conceded in the interview that its planned investment in nuclear power (which is a low-emission source of energy, but takes time to develop, so it pays off only in the long run) would also make it difficult to reach Sweden’s climate targets within the next decade.

Asked what will happen if Sweden does not meet its Agenda 2030 target, the sustainable development targets agreed by the United Nations, by that year, she said: “It would mean that we don’t meet the targets. If we don’t we don’t, but our ambition is to steer towards that goal.”

That quote, which was perceived as far more laissez-faire than the situation warrants, was met with criticism from the opposition.

“I’m astounded at how you sign agreements and vote for legislation in parliament only to ignore it when you feel like it,” said Green Party leader Per Bolund.

The Social Democrats’ former finance minister Mikael Damberg gave a diplomatic-or-patronising answer (a school of conflict avoidance that can be perfected only by a party that’s more used to being in power than not being in power) and guessed that Svantesson had perhaps not meant it like that. “Svantesson has had a lot to do this week, maybe she’s tired.”

Speaking of interviews, one Swedish newsroom has not yet been getting them, at least not with senior ministers. One of public broadcaster SVT’s top political interviewers, Anders Holmberg, points out that all four right-wing party leaders and several ministers have declined to appear on his “30 minuter”, a show famous for putting hard-hitting questions to politicians and senior decision-makers. It’s of course not mandatory to say yes to all interviews even as a politician, but it’s an unusual move.

It’s interesting that Bolund tried to attack Svantesson specifically on not following through on commitments. This has been a recurring piece of criticism since the new government was elected two months ago.

The budget was more conservative (in this particular case I mean conservative as in cautious rather than as in right-wing) than you might have expected based on the government’s election pledges, and it’s not the only campaign promise that they’ve been forced to backtrack on.

“The central thing is that they’re breaking most of their major election promises at the same time as as they’re not really managing to take care of the big social problems Sweden faces today,” Damberg told SVT.

To be fair, you would kind of expect him to say this (when has a political opposition party ever praised the government’s budget?), but significantly, the criticism hasn’t only come from the left-wing opposition.

Moderate Party politicians in the powerful Skåne region earlier this month slammed their party for failing to deliver the promised support to those suffering sky high power bills in the southern Swedish county.

“There are effectively no reforms, and they’re not putting in place the policies they campaigned for in the election,” the head of the liberal think tank Timbro told the Aftonbladet newspaper about the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether the label as “promise breakers” sticks, and whether that will affect the right-wing parties in the next election.

Did you know?

Parties make more and more pledges during election campaigns. Ahead of the 2014 election, a whopping 1,848 vallöften (election promises) were made, according to research by Gothenburg University, up from 326 in 1994.

You may not believe this, because the stereotypical image of the dishonest politician perhaps unfairly endures, but research shows that most politicians keep most of their election promises most of the time.

Swedish parties in a single-party government and coalition governments with a joint manifesto tend to deliver on between 80 and 90 percent of their vallöften, according to political scientist Elin Naurin. For coalition governments without a joint manifesto, it ranges from 50 to 70 percent.

In other news

the deputy mayor of the town of Norrtälje, who got 15 seconds – technically 26 seconds – of fame after he was left speechless when a reporter asked him to defend hefty pay rises for top councillors has resigned, saying he wants to take responsibility for what happened.

He also told SVT about his long and very awkward silence on camera that his brain had simply blacked out after having worked for 13 hours straight and gone nine hours without food in the post-election frenzy.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues after the Swedish election. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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