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Who is the new leader of Sweden’s Centre Party and why is it important?

In a press conference on Wednesday, Sweden's Centre Party announced that Muharrem Demirok, MP and former deputy mayor of Linköping, will take over from leader Annie Lööf following a party conference vote in February.

Who is the new leader of Sweden's Centre Party and why is it important?
Muharrem Demirok sitting by a sign reading "our new party leader" at a debate for party leader candidates in November. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Who is Muharrem Demirok?

Demirok was born in 1976 in Stockholm and grew up in Vårby Gård in Huddinge, southeast Stockholm. He now lives in Linköping, a city in southern Sweden roughly halfway between Stockholm and Gothenburg, with his wife, his three children and his dog, Allan. He has a political science degree from Linköping University.

He was elected to the Swedish parliament in the 2022 election. Prior to this, he was deputy mayor of Linköping.

Demirok joined the Centre Party in 2002, and has stated that “an important reason for this was the Centre Party’s policy for rural areas and for the whole of Sweden”.

He describes himself as a lover of nature, especially forests, citing this as one reason behind his interest for the environment. He has also said that his Turkish family were farmers who taught him that “those who use the earth also respect it”.

His party leader candidacy has not been without controversy.

In December 2022 he admitted of his own accord that he had been convicted of assault on two occasions. The first occurred at the age of 17 in 1994 when he got into a fight with another student at school, and the other in 1999 at a student party in Linköping. On the first occasion he was ordered to pay a fine, and on the second occasion he was ordered to complete 40 hours of community service.

Why is the new Centre Party leader important?

“It matters because in a sense the Centre Party holds the balance of power,” The Local’s James Savage explained in our Sweden in Focus podcast discussing the potential leadership candidates.

LISTEN: The Local’s panelists chat about the Centre Party leadership contest in the Sweden in Focus podcast:

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If, for example, the Centre Party chose to side with the centre-right government instead of the Social Democrats, that would give the government a stronger mandate and greater flexibility.

“Conversely, if the Social Democrats were to lose the support of the Centre Party, then that would make it much harder for [the Social Democrats] to form a government in the immediate or medium term,” he explained.

Having said that, neither Demirok nor any of the other candidates have said anything to suggest that they will make any changes to the party’s orientation.

When will he take over from Annie Lööf?

Demirok is not formally leader yet, rather Wednesday’s announcement just means that he has been chosen as the favoured candidate of the party’s election committee.

He will be formally voted in as party leader at a conference on February 2nd. In theory party members could vote for someone else, but in practice it is always the candidate suggested by the election committee who wins.

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For members


Politics in Sweden: What are Jimmie Åkesson’s plans for the future?

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson's absence from one of the main events in the political calendar has prompted pundits to wonder what his plans are after 18 years at the helm of the party.

Politics in Sweden: What are Jimmie Åkesson's plans for the future?

Åkesson will not speak at Almedalen Week – Sweden’s annual political festival – this year, the party announced last week.

The far-right leader told the Sweden Democrats’ communications channel Riks that he would take a longer summer holiday instead, as many Swedes do. It’s common in Sweden to take at least four weeks off in June-August, and even the world of politics tends to slow down.

That is, however, with the exception of Almedalen Week, the main event of the yearly political calendar. Every day, one or two of the party leaders delivers a keynote speech, and it is unusual for them to miss out on this opportunity to present their policies at prime time.

Unusual, but not unheard of.

Former Social Democrat leader and prime minister Stefan Löfven cancelled his attendance at the festival in 2019 and 2021 – in 2021 to deal with a government crisis – and so did former Moderate leader and prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in 2007.

But after 18 years as leader of the Sweden Democrats, Åkesson’s absence raises questions about his plans for the future.

The news comes after he was unusually quiet following the September election, suddenly reappeared with a flurry of interviews in the Swedish newspapers in spring, only to announce he’s taking a long summer holiday.

Åkesson’s position is probably the most secure of any party leader. He led the Sweden Democrats from obscurity on the neo-Nazi fringe to becoming the country’s second largest party in just a couple of decades. If he wants to stay on, he’s unthreatened.

But does he?

At Almedalen Week, the Sweden Democrats will instead be represented by their new parliamentary group leader Linda Lindberg, to help her develop her public profile, said Åkesson.

Lindberg is currently the chair of the party’s women’s branch and could help boost its popularity among women – or at least improve its reputation as an all-boys club.

But she is new and unknown in a party with a few strong names. Often mentioned in leadership discussions are Mattias Karlsson, Henrik Vinge, Oscar Sjöstedt and Jessica Stegrud.

Karlsson is often described as the brain behind the party’s ideology and has previously deputised for Åkesson, but he has also said he doesn’t enjoy having such a senior role.

Vinge is the party’s former group leader in parliament, former press spokesperson and current deputy party leader, but he has been involved in a conflict with another party member.

Sjöstedt is the party’s spokesperson on economic issues, but is also known for featuring in a video in which he retold anti-Semitic jokes – an image the party is trying to ditch.

Stegrud, a former member of the European Parliament and current member of the Swedish parliament, joined Åkesson for his campaign tour ahead of the 2022 election. But is she well known enough among the public to take over the helm of the party?

The point may be moot, anyway. As broadcaster TV4’s political reporter points out in an article, Åkesson is practically a newbie compared to one of the Christian Democrats’ former party leaders, Alf Svensson, who held his position for more than 30 years.

And Åkesson will not want to leave unless he’s sure his shoes can be filled.

In other news

Thirteen out of 24 government ministers identify as feminists, according to a survey by Swedish public radio. The new right-wing government made headlines when it scrapped the former centre-left government’s “feminist foreign policy” when it assumed office after the 2022 election.

“Of course [I’m a feminist]. In the sense that girls and women should have the same rights and opportunities as boys and men. And that’s not the case today,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told the radio.

Turkey is not ready to let Sweden into Nato, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week told CNN. Turkey is set to hold a new round of elections on May 28th, and Sweden’s Kristersson said he didn’t expect much to happen before then. He added that his hope was still that Sweden would become a member of Nato before the summit in Lithuania in mid-July, but conceded that time was “shrinking”. 

Sweden has appointed a new EU ambassador to replace Lars Danielsson, who will retire this summer after six years in the role.

Mikaela Kumlin Granit, who is currently Sweden’s ambassador to the UK, will take over as EU ambassador in August.

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.