Negative Campaigning

Toblerone-Remark Causes Outrage

Less than a week till the red-green opposition presents its shadow budget, and its content is being leaked blow-by-blow. But on Tuesday, a government minister managed to steal the lime-light from the opposition by what was seen by some as a blow below the belt.

Commenting on the latest red-green proposal, the Christian Democrat Minister for Financial Markets Mats Odell said: "It is pure toblerone policy. You pay with your card, and send the invoice to the Swedish people".

By that, Odell referred to a scandal that Social Democratic leader Mona Sahlin caused when she was deputy prime minister in 1995. Then, Sahlin had misused her parliament credit card to purchase private items, such as nappies and Toblerone chocolate.

She did write "private" on the credit card bills, and she did pay back the money, but when it turned out that some of her debts - among others for parking fines - had ended up at the enforcement office, her economic judgement was widely called into question. Sahlin left the Government and her job as deputy prime minister.

The prosecution later dropped the inquiry into the case since there was no crime to be proven, and three years later Sahlin returned to Government.

That Mats Odell uses this 15 year old scandal as a reference today caused an outrage among the Social Democrats, and the shadow Finance Minister demanded an apology.

But also in other quarters, eyebrows were raised. Since Odell used the expression again and again in interviews with the Swedish media, it seemed clear that it was not a slip of the tongue.

Professor and political scientist Ulf Bjereld tells the news agency TT that he thinks it is "fairly gross for being Swedish politics". Bjereld notes that it comes from an established and experienced politician like Odell. "It could be the beginning of a deliberate strategy to exploit Mona Sahlin's weak position in the public opinion."

Another professor and political scientist, Peter Esaiasson, tells TT that these kind of personal attacks are not completely unknown in the Swedish election campaign, but that is is unusual that it comes this early. While Henrik Oscarsson, also professor and political scientist, says this could be a way to test how the public reacts.

Asked to comment, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he would himself not have used the same words as Odell, but apart from that, he would not criticise what his minister had said.

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