Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats offered parents with schoolchildren an extra paid week of holiday as the centre-left party tried to turn debate away from immigration and crime in the run-up to next month’s election.
The Social Democrats, who were launching their manifesto ahead of voting on September 9, are seeking to retain power by arguing that Sweden can strengthen its famed welfare state while warning that the centre-right opposition will prioritise tax cuts.
“It emphasises that this election is a referendum on welfare. Our position is crystal-clear: we do not stand for tax cuts for a few rich people. Instead, we stand for a stronger society and a safer Sweden for all of us,” said Magdalena Andersson, the Social Democrat finance minister, as she presented the measure expected to cost SKr5.6bn ($615m).
The Social Democrats are on course to post their lowest share of the vote in more than a century. Opinion polls suggest that the anti-immigration, rightwing Sweden Democrats will attract the support of about one in five Swedes. The election debate has been dominated by immigration and crime after a spate of shootings and arson attacks in immigrant-dominated suburbs.
Stefan Lofven, the Social Democrat prime minister, has expressed frustration that voters fail to recognise the strong economy under his centre-left coalition. He has toughened his party’s line on immigration in an attempt to stem the rise of the Sweden Democrats, with whom he refuses to talk or negotiate.
The Social Democrats are promising at least SKr20bn more in spending on healthcare, schools and elderly care in the next four years as well as hiring 10,000 new police officers.
The centre-left party is synonymous with the Swedish welfare state, which it built up in an unbroken reign in power from the 1930s to the 1970s. But in recent years Sweden has privatised large swaths of schools, hospitals and care homes while long queues and lower rankings in international education surveys have caused Swedes to question the success of their welfare state.
Ms Andersson said the proposal would give a parent five extra days each to use for holidays or planning days when their children were at home. The Social Democrats billed the announcement as a potential “game-changer”.
Support for the Social Democrats has stabilised in recent weeks at 25-26 per cent — which would still represent their worst performance since 1908 — but ahead of the Sweden Democrats on 19-20 per cent and the centre-right Moderates on 18 per cent.
Forming a government is likely to prove highly tricky. A new government could comprise anything from a one-party minority administration to a grand coalition between the Social Democrats and Moderates.
The Social Democrats, in power since 2014, also tried to address some of the criticism aimed at them by proposing to lift pensions for most people and build more affordable homes for younger people.
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