Mona Sahlin today announced her resignation as leader of the Swedish Social Democrats, as I predicted she would do if her party lost the general election in September. The election results were a disaster for the party which until recently was the natural party of government in Sweden; with only 30 % of the votes the Social Democrats were only marginally bigger than the Moderate Party, whose centre-right coalition lost its majority but remained the largest block in Parliament. It also meant that the Social Democrats, who used to poll some 40 or 45 % of the votes, had lost 10 % in two elections.
A "crisis committee" was established shortly after the election and an extraordinary party congress scheduled for the spring to deal with the crisis. Earlier this week the party leader decreed that the enitre party leadership should put their posts at the disposal of the party congress. Today Mona Sahlin announced that she had reached the conclusion that she will herself not seek re-election to the party leadership.
She will also leave her seat in Parliament after the party congress. 53-year-old Mona Sahlin is presently the longest-serving Member of Parliament, having been first elected at the age of 25 in 1982. In 1990 Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson appointed her Minister of Employment and following the government’s electoral defeat in 1991 she became party secretary.
When Carlsson resumed the reins of government in 1994 Sahlin was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. She was considered the natural successor when Carlsson announced in 1995 that he would resign the following year, but revelations that Sahlin had used her official credit card for personal purchases caused her to withdraw her candidature, resign from the government and to leave Parliament in 1996.
Göran Persson became Prime Minister instead and brought her back into the government as a Minister without Portfolio. She re-entered Parliament in 2002 and served in the cabinet until Persson’s electoral defeat in 2006.
Following his resignation she was elected leader of the Social Democrats in 2007, but was by many considered the third choice in the absence of the popular Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who was assassinated in 2003, and Margot Wallström, who had left Swedish politics for the EU Commission and subsequently the UN.
Her resignation means that she will be the first leader of the Social Democrats in a century not to become Prime Minister.
Some had predicted that the lack of a natural, or indeed suitable, successor might have saved the party leadership for Sahlin. Polls of party members have shown that they would prefer Margot Wallström as party leader, but she has so far shown no interest in returning to Swedish politics and is furthermore not an MP, which would create difficulties for her as leader.
The same goes for another more popular politician, Thomas Bodström, who has just left Parliament and moved to the USA and is furthermore considered a lightweight by many in the party. Sven-Erik Östberg, leader of the parliamentary group, and Thomas Östros, financial spokesman, may be possible candidates, but so may several others.