Sahlin in final party leader debate
Wednesday saw the first party leader debate in the Swedish parliament of the new year. With Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin, and both Green party spokespeople Maria Wetterstrand and Peter Ericsson standing down as leaders, it was a chance for the other party leaders to say their goodbyes, and for the outgoing politicians, their last chance to attack the government.
Unlike in some other countries, this is not a weekly affair, in fact debates involving all eight parliamentary party leaders only actually take place twice a year.
In her speech, Mona Sahlin concentrated on the large numbers of unemployed in Sweden. She criticised the government's policy of tax cuts, saying that is only helping those that have a job, not those that are trying to get one. She also attacked the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats and urged her successor, whoever that may be, to do the same, even co-operating over party lines to do that when necessary.
In response, she was praised and given presents by the other party leaders. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt gave her an iPod and thanked her for her passion and enthusiasm in politics. Several of the other leaders praised her for her work in promoting gay rights during her time at the top.
There was also much praise for the outgoing Green leaders, with many of the other party leaders pointing out how they have managed to turn the party into the third largest force in Swedish politics. In her speech, Wetterstrand attacked Danish immigration policy, and indirectly the Sweden Democrats. She slammed the Danish policy limiting marriages between Danes and non-Danes, which makes it very difficult for people to move to Denmark to marry someone. She adds that her party has decided to cross parliamentary lines and co-operate with the centre-right government on immigration issues, just to make sure the same situation does not happen here.
Things soon got back to normal though once the presents and hugs for the outgoing leaders were done with. Most of the parties chose to stick to well known themes for their individual speeches. Coservative Moderate leader and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt emphasised the strength of the Swedish economy, but stressed the need to get more Swedes into work and to continue the reforms of the Swedish education system.
Liberal Party leader and Education Minister Jan Björklund concentrated, as usual, on education, and the importance of an open and tolerant society, especially in the light of the Stockholm Suicide Bomber. "We don't blame everyone from the town of Tranås because he came from there", Björklund said, "so we shouldn't blame all immigrants for his crime either. Don't confuse increased security with increased intolerance".
Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson concentrated on the importance of helping small business, and said Sweden's business community was the reason why the economic recovery is so strong here, she added that more still needs to be done to improve their competitiveness. In response, Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin criticised both Liberal and Centre party leaders, accusing them of veering to the right, and abandoning their social liberal ideals in favour of closer ties with the conservative Moderates.
The last speakers in the mammoth debate, it took over three hours, were Left Party leader Lars Ohly, and Sweden Democrat Jimmie Åkesson. Ohly claimed the government was whitewashing the current state of the country, and ignoring the expulsion of christian Iraqis, cutbacks in sport and culture funding and bad landlords. He also slammed private companies making money out of the national health service, asking why taxpayers money should pay for their profits.
Jimmie Åkesson, from the Sweden Democrats, unsuprisingly brought up immigration and integration in his speech to parliament. He accused the government of passivity when it comes to crime, and called for stricter punishments, and that life should mean life in prison. He also spoke of the Swedes living in areas with a high immigrant population, saying they are victims of discrimination.
Liberal leader Jan Björklund hit back, accusing the Sweden Democrats of being against all the government's integration policies, which he said meant that any problems with integration in Swedish society for immigrants would continue. "You want their exclusion from society to continue, that's the air that you breathe." he said.
The next party leader debate will be later this year, by then with a whole new cast, but the chances are, the same kinds of discussion. Just maybe not as many presents next time round.