Harassment, immigration, housing hotly debated
Party leaders clashed for their first debate in Parliament this year. Among the main issues raised were integration, sexual harassment, energy, and the labor and housing markets.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven from the Social Democrats opened the debate, referring to reports this week that girls attending a festival in Stockholm this summer had been sexually harassed.
"Every girl's body, every woman's body is her own. Girls and women must be able to move freely out at night, without being afraid of assault. If assault occurs, society must stand on the victim's side. The guilty must be punished," Löfven said.
Several politicians referred to the reports about the We Are Sthlm culture festival last summer at which gangs of males were accused of harassing or groping women in the crowd. The Stockholm Police kept quiet about it, until after events in Cologne, Germany, when internal police memos were leaked to the press. In an interview, one police commander had told the daily Dagens Nyheter that the matter was sensitive as many of the suspects had foreign backgrounds and they did not want to give political ammunition to anti-immigrant parties. This was later denounced by the National Police Commissioner and the head of communications of Stockholm Police who both said no such political considerations should be made by the police. An investigation into what went wrong has been launched.
During their speeches in parliament Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, leader of the Social Democrats, and Anna Kinberg Batra, leader of the opposition Moderates, linked the story to gender equality issues. Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, the country's third largest party after the Social Democrats and the Moderates, connected the incident with the culture and attitudes of the people who had committed the crimes.
Sweden's reception of refugees was also a hot-button topic during the debate. Anders Jonsson of the Centre Party called for reforms to allow lower wages in an effort to create more jobs for refugees. Löfven defended the government's policy saying "I am not going to break with what is a success story, the Swedish model."
When the leader of the anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, took the podium, he called the autumn of 2015 "one of the darkest periods in Sweden's history," referring to the surge of refugees coming to Sweden.
The acute housing shortage also featured prominently. Jan Björklund of the Liberal Party was critical of the government's proposals and argued for deregulating the housing market, saying rent controls fostered a black market and saying that building more rental housing was not seen as a viable solution by experts. Löfven on the other hand said the governement would support offering subsidies to builders and increasing the production of prefabricated homes. The government has said they want a multi-party consensus to discuss how to tackle the housing shortage.
While there were several potentially decisive topics, the debates were not considered particularly strident by media analysts. Swedish Radio's political specialist Fredrik Furtenbach guessed that the government's minority status might account for the polite, collaborative overtones.
"Partly, the government wants to cooperate in as many areas as possible as it struggles in a minority and wants to prolong its life as a government he said," said Furtenbach speaking specifically about the discussion of the housing shortage.