Swedish opposition ousts government

Center-right opposition ends 12 years of leftist rule in the Nordic nation.

By
September 18, 2006 10:45
2 minute read.
Swedish opposition ousts government

sweden elections 88. (photo credit: )

 
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A center-right opposition vowing to streamline Sweden's famed welfare state ousted the Social Democratic government in a close parliamentary election Sunday, ending 12 years of leftist rule in the Nordic nation. Prime Minister Goran Persson, who had governed for 10 years, conceded defeat and said his Cabinet would resign after the Social Democratic Party's worst election result in decades. With 99.7 percent of districts counted, the four-party opposition alliance led by Fredrik Reinfeldt had 48.1 percent of the votes, compared with 46.2 percent for the Social Democrats and their two supporting parties. "It was team work that helped us win," Reinfeldt said in a victory speech to jubilant supporters in downtown Stockholm. Persson said Sweden's social model - a market economy blended with a high-tax welfare state - was at stake in the election. But the opposition led by Reinfeldt's Moderate Party insisted it would not dismantle the system but help it survive by promoting jobs over welfare handouts. The results showed the Moderates with 26.1 percent, a strong gain from 2002 when it won only 15 percent of the vote. After taking over the party leadership in 2003, Reinfeldt, 41, steered the party toward the center by toning down its conservative polices. "We dared to challenge ourselves, we dared to admit our faults," Reinfeldt said. "That renewal has not just begun, it will continue into the future." Final official results were expected Wednesday, but were unlikely to change the outcome. The Social Democrats had only 35.3 percent, which if confirmed would be the party's worst showing in parliamentary elections since 1914. Persson said his government would resign as Reinfeldt's government takes office when Parliament reconvenes next month. In conceding defeat, Persson, 57, said his Cabinet would resign as Reinfeldt's coalition takes office when the 349-seat Riksdag reconvenes next month. Persson, the second longest-serving among the European Union's current government leaders after Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, said he would also step down as party leader in March. "We have lost the election, but we are not a defeated party," he said. Sweden is enjoying strong economic growth - 5 percent on an annual basis in the second quarter compared with the EU average of 2.8 percent. But that did not give Persson's government the boost it expected. Reinfeldt accused the government of failing to translate the growth into more jobs and claimed the official statistics showing 5.7 percent unemployment are misleading. If you add people on sickness or disability leave or government job-training programs, the figure is higher than 20 percent, he said. Reinfeldt is set to lead a majority coalition government of Moderates, Christian Democrats, the Center Party and the Liberal Party. Each of the three parties won between 6 percent and 8 percent of the vote. Sweden's election authority said 80.4 percent of the 6.8 million voters turned out in the election, 1.3 percent more than in 2002. Some voters said they had grown weary of the Social Democratic government, which replaced a center-right coalition in 1994. "Twelve years is at least eight years too many," said Mats Hedberg, 61, a retired journalist who voted for the Moderates. "He is tired, Persson." The Social Democrats' sidekicks in the Riksdag, the Left and Green parties, won 5.8 percent and 5.2 percent respectively. Smaller parties such as the Feminist Initiative or the far-right Sweden Democrats failed to reach the 4 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

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