First read part one of this article.
Mona Sahlin did not have an easy time as chairman. On the surface, the circumstances seemed excellent. Her party had record high numbers in the opinion polls and together the three red-green parties were as much as twenty percentage points ahead of the government in the polls. Then came the financial crisis which many thought would widen the gap even more. But it was the exact opposite.
Sahlin's dream position turned into a night mare
Sweden was less affected than many other countries by the crisis and the public finances were excellent. (Since Göran Person’s time as Prime Minister healthy public finances has almost been the new state religion in Sweden, something the present government has developed even more). People were basically happy with the way the government handled the crisis at the same time as the opposition gave contradictory answers, for example whether or not the state should temporarily go in with money in the troublesome auto industry in order to save jobs.
Mona Sahlin also turned out to lack control over her party’s strategy when she first announced a ten year(!) cooperation with the Greens and expressively exclude the Left party, just to two days (!) later make it a three party cooperation when she also invited the Left party after protests from parts of her own party. The excelent showing in the opinion polls made it difficult for her to convince the party that they needed change and renewal.
Sahlin was always controversial in her party, some considered her being too far to the right, others criticized her personal abilities to lead. So after the disastrous election result her resignation came as no surprise. The question is however: Who will take over now? I see mainly two potential candidates.
Sven-Erik Österberg is leader of the Social democratic group in the Riksdag and former deputy Minister for Finance. He is 55 years old and seen as a bit boring but reliable. He might not initiate a big renewal process and internal debate about the party’s future direction but might be able to gain the personal confidence of the voters – which is vital to win elections and exactly the point where Sahlin failed. Österberg said that he would ‘consider it carefully’ if he got the question from the election committee but that might very well mean Yes in ‘Socialdemocratish’.
Sven-Erik Österberg, the next chairman of Sweden's biggest party? Photo: Riksdagen
Former minister for Finances Pär Nuder is another potential candidate. He is 48 years old. For a long time he was one of Göran Persson’s closest associates even though the relationship between the two never recovered after a conflict they had a year before they lost the election.
Nuder might be associated with the election defeat in 2006, but not the one in 2010 since he was toppled by Sahlin already in 2008. When I read his memoirs a couple of years ago I got the firm impression that was aiming at a comeback. He says ‘no’ when media asks but this does not necessarily mean No, as history shows. Nuder is, like Österberg, considered a bit boring but competent. Many voters don’t like him much but the same could be said about Göran Persson when he was elected and he still managed to earn the respect of many voters, not only Social democrats.
Pär Nuder. Says 'no' but what does he really mean with that? Photo: Riksdagen
Beside these two there are a number of potential candidates but I believe they all fail for one reason or another. They are either to much connected to the former failed leadership (Tomas Östros) or to connected to the ‘right’ (Mikael Damberg, and Östros again) or left (Veronica Palm and Morgan Johansson) in the party to be an acceptable solution for everyone. It is also considered important that the party leader has a seat in the Riksdag since it would be difficult to lead the daily work otherwise. Especially with the present political situation where the centre-right government lacks a majority and need to negotiate with other parties in the Riksdag.
One alternative solution
Margot Wallström seems to be most people’s favorite choice but she still says no, and in her case I believe 'no' means No. But there is one interesting possible solution that has never been tested in Sweden before. It is not a law of nature that the Prime Minister needs to be party chairman. If Österberg is elected party leader and they meet the voters in 2014 with Wallström as candidate to the position as Prime Minister, they would constitute a deadly threat to the centre-right government.
There are also other advantages with this solution. To share the duties makes it easier to focus and Wallström is surely more popular than Österberg even though a lot can happen before 2014. Wallström is also a woman (could be the first female Prime Minister in Sweden) and has a lot of international experience.
Margot Wallström. Can something make her change her mind? Photo: EU-commission
However, I am still not sure this could happen. Firstly we don’t now if Wallström would be interested in this solution either and secondly I doubt the Social Democrats are currently brave and new-thinking enough to do this, but it is surely an interesting thought.
The congress that are to choose new leader will be held on March 25-27. At least a couple of weeks before we will know who the election committee suggests.