It was an open and shut deal: The party chairman had announced his resignation and made a clear hint about who he wanted as his successor. Alternative candidates backed down citing for instance their family life as a cause for not wanting the top post. A little strange as the Swedish model should make having a career and a family life compatible, but that was the argument in any event.
This left only one Candidate and a good one: A person who was on the one hand experienced but not bogged down in the nasty conflicts surrounding the party. Someone who represented a new generation. Where the ceding party leader been known as a bit of a bore, the Candidate was charismatic. A true communicator in the age of new media.
Oh – and the Candidate was a woman. A first in a party which had more than a touch of working class traditionalism in it and whose leading circles had always preferred strong, quiet men.
And then – to borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s expression – stuff happened. Someone leaked a story revealing personal details about the Candidate that turned out to be a feast for the tabloid press. The Candidate was forced to back down and a Surprise Replacement appeared out of left field.
The strange thing about the Swedish Social Democrats’ search for a new chairman following the 2006 election and Göran Persson’s resignation is that is was almost a repeat of the search following Ingvar Carlsson’s announcement in late 1995 that he would step down as prime minister and chairman of the Social Democrats. Even the Candidate is the same person: Mona Sahlin.
Some would argue that had it not been for a mentally ill Serbian equipped with a knife, Anna Lindh would have taken over from Persson sometime during 2004 or 2005 and led the Social Democrats in the election campaign while Sahlin would have been condemned to the status of a has-been.
And who knows: Maybe a rejuvenated Social Democratic Party under Lindh would have managed to scrape together the few thousand votes which separated left and right in September 2006.
Or maybe the story about the extradited Egyptians would have tainted Lindh’s reputation. We shall never know.
Update: I originally – and inexplicably – wrote that Ingvar Carlsson annouced his resignation in 2005. The correct year is 1995. Are you ready to party like it’s 2009?