Sweden's Social Democrats elect Magdalena Andersson as leader

·4-min read
Magdalena Andersson said she would celebrate by getting to work (AFP/Bjorn LARSSON ROSVALL)

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats on Thursday elected finance minister Magdalena Andersson the new head of the party, putting her on track to be the country's first woman prime minister.

The 54-year-old economist and former top swimmer, who ran unopposed, was confirmed by the party's annual congress to succeed outgoing leader and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who announced his resignation in August.

"I'm of course both honoured and glad and I feel a great deal of humility for the task, but above all I am hugely excited to lead our great and proud party," Andersson told the congress after her election, to roaring applause.

Andersson also outlined three political priorities for the coming years.

Firstly she wanted to "take back democratic control of schools, healthcare and elderly care" in the country that has long had a debate over welfare sector liberalisation and privatisation and companies being able to profit from taxpayer money.

Secondly she wanted Sweden to become a leader in the "climate transition" and becoming a role model for the world.

"Thirdly, I want, no I demand that we turn every stone to end segregation and smoke out the violence that threatens our entire community," Andersson said.

The Nordic country has in recent years struggled to rein in rising shootings and bombings -- usually score settling by gangs and organised crime involved in drug trafficking.

- Making history -

Andersson is now on track to be the next prime minister following Lofven's resignation after seven years as head of government, with less than a year before elections expected in September 2022.

Lofven, who is still Prime Minister, has not yet announced the exact date of his resignation.

Once he is gone, Andersson would have to win a vote in parliament to be Sweden's first female prime minister.

The feat of installing a woman in the Rosenbad seat of government sounds almost anachronistic in a country that has long championed gender equality

All other Nordic countries, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have all seen women lead their governments.

But while Sweden has had several contenders, they have never quite made it to the top job.

Anna Lindh, foreign minister and fellow Social Democrat, died after a stabbing attack in a department store in 2003.

Mona Sahlin, the first woman to head the Social Democrats and a deputy prime minister, was sidelined first by a spending scandal in 1995 that involved Toblerone chocolate, and later resigned in 2011 after an electoral defeat.

The job could yet prove a poisoned chalice -- Andersson will be tasked with trying to keep her party in power at a time when it is close to its lowest-ever approval ratings.

In Sweden's parliament, political forces are so finely balanced that the Social Democrats need the support of both their Green Party coalition partners and the Left and Centre parties to elect a new prime minister.

- 'Bulldozer' -

Electing Lofven after the 2018 election took months of political wrangling.

His government was ousted in a vote of no confidence this summer, only to return weeks later as no other candidates could muster enough support.

If Andersson claims the post she will also immediately be tasked with the ungrateful mission of passing a budget through the deadlocked legislature.

Born in the university town of Uppsala, she is the only daughter of a university professor and a teacher who first made a name for herself in the water, where she twice won gold in the Swedish national junior championship.

Still relatively unknown to the general public, Andersson will have less than a year to put herself on the map and avoid having a very short-lived tenancy in the seat of power.

While challenges abound, the expectation for her to quickly resolve tough issues can also present an opportunity.

"It gives her a mandate for change, showing voters that the party has made a fresh start," wrote Ewa Stenberg, political commentator for newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

In political circles, Andersson has built a reputation for bluntness.

A recent programme profiling her on public television channel SVT was entitled "The Bulldozer".

She has previously described herself as a "nice, hard-working woman," and asked at press conference about how she would celebrate her new job she simply replied: "I will work."

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