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POLITICS

What you need to know about Magdalena Andersson

Former Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson will become Sweden's new prime minister, after winning her second vote in parliament.

What you need to know about Magdalena Andersson
Magdalena Andersson has been approved by parliament and is now Sweden's first female prime minister. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

1. What is her career and political history?

Magdalena Andersson has held her position of Sweden’s finance minister since 2014, retaining the position through all three Löfven governments.

In terms of politics, she has been a member of the Social Democrats since 1983 when she joined the youth branch of the organisation as a 16-year-old, being elected chairperson of the Uppsala branch four years later.

Her engagement with the Social Democrats continued alongside studies at Stockholm School of Economics, where she was elected chairperson of the Social Democratic Student Association in 1991.

After her studies, she worked in the prime minister’s office between 1996 and 2004, first as a political advisor, later as director of planning.

This was followed by two years as state secretary in the Finance Department, two years as advisor to then-leader of the Social Democrats Mona Sahlin, and three years as senior director at the Swedish Tax Agency. In 2012 Stefan Löfven appointed her to the role of economic-political spokesperson of the Social Democrats, a role she held until she was elected to the Swedish parliament (and government) in 2014.

2. What did she study?

Andersson is a trained economist, who has studied at Stockholm School of Economics, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, and at Harvard University in the US.

She has a masters in economics and was working towards a PhD which she decided not to complete once she was offered the role as political advisor in the Prime Minister’s office.

She also met her husband during their studies at Stockholm School of Economics, where he currently works as a professor.

3. What are her plans as prime minister?

After being confirmed as the Social Democrats’ new leader, Andersson outlined three political priorities going forward.

She said she wanted to “take back democratic control of schools, healthcare and elderly care”, and move away from welfare sector privatisation.

She also said she aimed to make Sweden a worldwide role model in climate transition.

And she vowed to end segregation, as well as the shootings and bombings that have plagued the country in recent years – usually due to gangs settling scores or battling over the drug market – mainly affecting disadvantaged neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations.

Andersson was involved in a position paper earlier this year which could suggest that she is considerably further to the left than her cautious handling of Sweden’s accounts as finance minister would suggest. 

The document is titled Fördelningspolitik för jämlikhet och rättvisa, which translates roughly as “Redistributive policy for equality and justice”. 

It was created in collaboration with a number of other politicians as part of a working group headed by Andersson, and includes, among other things, a critique of neoliberalism. It also critiques the introduction of market forces and private interests into healthcare, education and other welfare services, which reflects her subsequent statements on this topic. 

It is debatable as to how seriously this document can be taken, with Mari Huupponen, an investigator with the Kommunal union, who has analysed some of the same topics around profit-making in welfare, previously warning The Local not to see the document as a set of serious policy proposals, let alone as Andersson’s political programme.

“It’s not as if it’s an official document that the party will now pursue. It’s just like a policy paper that one group working inside of the party has produced. I don’t think that this is a big picture of what the dreams of Magdalena Andersson look like,” said Huupponen.

EDITOR’S PICKS:

The paper also suggests that the authors want to limit labour immigration to jobs Sweden cannot fill with its existing workforce. This could make it tougher for, say, people who want to come to Sweden to work in restaurants or as care assistants.

A number of parties including the Social Democrats have recently called for labour immigration law reform, so it appears that this aspect of the paper may translate into policy, at least.

Magdalena Andersson and her predecessor Stefan Löfven in parliament. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

4. What challenges is she facing?

Andersson has two immediate challenges. The first is next year’s budget, which sparked the departure of her Green Party coalition partners and Andersson’s own resignation before even taking office after she won her first prime ministerial vote last week.

The right-wing’s opposition budget – negotiated jointly by the conservative Moderates and Christian Democrats and the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats – passed, which means that Andersson will have to govern on this budget.

It will be the first time Sweden is run on a budget negotiated by a far-right party.

The other major challenge for Andersson is preparing for the September 2022 election, where the Social Democrats will be hoping to recover some of the losses made in its 2018 result, the worst in a century for the centre-left.

5. Who is she on a personal level?

Andersson was an elite swimmer and gymnast in her youth. Her former trainer, Christer Johansson, who is now a local politician for the Left Party in Knivsta, described her as “goal-oriented” to newswire TT. He recounts an episode where, after breaking her foot in gymnastics, it was placed in a plaster cast. Once the cast was removed, she came back to the swimming pool on crutches determined to train, ignoring advice to wait until her foot no longer hurt.

She was born in Uppsala in 1967 as the only child of teacher Birgitta and statistics professor Göran, and is described as having a secure upbringing. As a young girl she regularly watched the evening news, telling newspaper Aftonbladet that “it made me interested in what was happening around me, and I became outraged by injustices,” describing this quality as “a good gift I brought with me from home”.

Her father died in 2002 after a long period with Alzheimers, something she has previously described as a “long and painful journey for us all”. Her mother is still alive and they talk every day, always discussing the news.

She has two children in their 20s with her husband, choosing rarely, if ever, to share details of her family. She has previously stated that they are not a part of her public life.

Andersson, now 54, will formally become Sweden’s first female prime minister, elected by parliament 100 years after votes for women were introduced in Sweden, after a change of government cabinet meeting with King Carl XVI Gustaf.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.

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