"Sweden’s Governing Party Voted Out After 12 Years"(New York Times September 18, 2006)
Sweden swept away 12 years of center-left government on Sunday, voting to reject its longtime prime minister, Goran Persson, in favor of a conservative candidate who has pledged to revise the Swedish welfare state.
Mr. Reinfeldt successfully made unemployment a major issue in the campaign. By most measures, Sweden is thriving economically: the economy is growing this year at a projected annual rate of 4.1 percent, and the official unemployment rate is 5.7 percent.
But with its generous social services and high unemployment benefits, Mr. Reinfeldt argues, it has encouraged a vast swath of people to fall out of the labor market, a particularly acute problem with an aging population. Taking into account the number of working-age people who are not working or in school ― including early retirees, people in job training and those on long-term disability ― the unemployment figure is close to 21 percent, he says.
Mr. Reinfeldt has pledged to revitalize the economy by cutting payroll taxes for low-income workers, reducing unemployment benefits from the current high of 80 percent of a worker’s last salary, raising educational standards to prepare students for work in a competitive market and encouraging employers with tax credits to hire the long-term unemployed.
In the previous election four years ago, Mr. Reinfeldt’s party was trounced at the polls when it ran on a traditional platform of big tax cuts and deep reductions in social security benefits. When he became party leader, Mr. Reinfeldt acknowledged that such a stance was unlikely to win any elections in a country that is essentially happy with its underlying big-government, high-tax system.
So he moved the party to the center and settled on unemployment as an issue on which the government would be particularly vulnerable.