Alliance coalition ends Prime Minister Goran Persson's rule By Lennart Simonsson

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Monday September 18, 2006

By Lennart Simonsson, Stockholm- Untested Fredrik Reinfeldt of the conservative Moderate Party basked Monday in the limelight after winning Sweden's parliamentary elections before meeting with his future coalition partners. The victory Sunday - labelled by headlines as "historic" - marked the end of an era.

The ruling minority Social Democrats were voted out of power after 12 years. Prime Minister Goran Persson, who has led the country of 9 million for the past 10 years, announced his resignation and said that he would step down as party leader next March.

The Social Democrats were hammered at the polls, scoring their lowest result since the First World War with 35.2 per cent.

Reinfeldt, who led his Moderate Party to record highs at the polls with 26.1 per cent, has a majority in parliament along with the other three non-socialist parties - the Centre Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats - in the Alliance for Sweden coalition.

The coalition has 178 seats in the 349-seat parliament, according to preliminary tallies from the Election Authority.

The 41-year-old Reinfeldt has no previous experience in government, although he was a member of parliament during the non- socialist government led by his predecessor Carl Bildt in 1991-1994.

Bildt was forced to rely on support from a populist party, and was soon embroiled in combating a severe economic downturn that contributed to a comeback for the Social Democrats in 1994.

During his two years as finance minister (1994-1996), Persson introduced major spending cuts and other measures to get the economy back on track, angering traditional supporters like the trade unions.

But 12 years later, voters appeared to have grown weary of the government that in recent years has relied on the backing of the Left Party and the Green Party.

Reinfeldt has until October 6 to present a government. He met Monday with the other alliance leaders. After the meeting they announced that they would agree on a joint platform for the new government before sharing out portfolios.

The new cabinet would likely to be dominated by the Moderate Party which won more seats, 97, than the 81 for the other three combined but Reinfeldt may be forced to offer his allies more.

The imbalance could potentially prove problematic. Although the Centre Party also increased its share of the vote, the Liberals and Christian Democrats lost support. Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonborg, whose party was almost halved, said a change of government was more important.

The alliance was forged two years ago to challenge the Social Democrats, and avoid infighting of the kind that split the non- socialist parties during their previous terms in office in the 1970s and 1991-1994.

A failure to keep the alliance intact would be devastating for their credibility, observers said, noting that the party leaders have met regularly to improve personal ties.

Prior to the elections, task groups hammered out deals on issues that have snagged previous non-socialist governments, including nuclear power. The alliance has said that during the coming four-year period it would not decommission any of Sweden's 10 nuclear reactors, and not discuss plans to build new reactors.

Tax cuts, reductions in unemployment benefits, and reforming the welfare system were some of the measures the alliance announced in their election campaign platform, aimed at creating new jobs.

The new government may also move to sell state-owned shares in banking group Nordea, telecommmunications operator Telia Sonera, and the joint Scandinavian airline SAS.

A shift in foreign policy was not expected in the short-term, although Sweden was due to hold the six-month presidency of the European Union during the Reinfeldt government's four-year term and could therefore become more active in EU matters.

There were no plans to introduce the joint European currency. Voters rejected that in a September 2003 referendum, one of Persson's major setbacks.

The size of the foreign aid budget may cause some spats. Members of the Moderate Party have questioned spending increases citing concerns over "quality" as opposed to the Christian Democrats and Liberals.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur