Sweden’s fresh start: On Stockholm’s first ever woman Prime Minister

In appointing its first ever woman Prime Minister, former Finance Minister and member of the Social Democratic Party Magdalena Andersson, Sweden joined other Nordic nations that have had a woman as a leader. Ms. Andersson’s entry was unusually dramatic — she was thrust into the prime ministerial berth for scarcely a few hours last week as she had to resign owing to a coalition partner, the Green Party, quitting government after its budget proposal was defeated in the Riksdag. Nevertheless, she went on to secure the top position on a firmer footing after another vote was held where she surpassed the threshold for maximum level of opposition to her prime ministership — she faced 173 ‘nay’ votes whereas it would have taken 175 of those to keep her from taking up the leadership mantle. She takes over from her predecessor, Stefan Löfven, in complex political circumstances, given that he was heading a caretaker government after being defeated in a vote of no confidence in June 2021. Hailing originally from the university town of Uppsala, Ms. Andersson’s political innings kicked off in 1996 when she became a political adviser to erstwhile Prime Minister Göran Persson. She embodies the classic Swedish ideal of hard work and rising steadily through the ranks on the merit of her performance, an exceptional achievement given the male-dominated arena of Swedish politics.

Yet, Ms. Andersson can hardly afford to rest on her laurels as the road ahead for her government and party may well be a bumpy one. The immediate challenge is of economic governance, and it arises from the fact that the Social Democrats are charged with implementing a budget passed by the Swedish opposition, including the neo-Nazi elements of the right-wing Sweden Democrats Party. While there is cause for cheer given that the opposition budget was based on the government’s own proposal, the stumbling block for her administration may be the fact that of the 74 billion kronor that it hoped to spend on reforms, only a little over 20 billion kronor will be available to her government in 2022. This tightening of purse strings could dent her ambitious plans to carry out much-needed social reforms, especially in the areas of climate change, welfare policies and measures to combat gang violence and organised crime activity, both of which have risen alarmingly in recent years in cities such as Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg. While some analysts consider Ms. Andersson to be not opposed to dealing with right-wing parties, they acknowledge that her position “softened”, during the pandemic, manifested in greater willingness to borrow to fund green investments, and in allowing the state to have a greater control of the welfare sector. Her ability to build bridges with the opposition while yet staying true to the Social Democrats’ core party values will define her legacy.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 1:12:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/swedens-fresh-start/article37778242.ece

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