In addition to giving its nod to Juholt as the new party leader, the Social Democrats’ nomination committee also named Carin Jämtin to take over as party secretary from Ibrahim Baylan, who announced at the weekend he planned to step down at the party’s extra congress.
“We are humbled and proud of this. We’re aware that the congress will choose the party’s leadership,” Juholt said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Nomination committee chair Berit Andnor said the committee was unanimous in its decision.
“There was one person who responded well to the requirements we put forward,” she said.
Juholt stressed that while he and Jämtin had been picked as candidates by the nomination committee, the process of installing them as the core of the party’s new leadership team wasn’t quite finished.
“We see ourselves as candidates and await the decision which will be taken by the congress. Carin and I have so many years behind us in the party; we’re filled with ideas and thoughts about social democracy,” Juholt continued.
“We’re going to do everything we can to strengthen the Social Democrats,” said Juholt, before turning the podium over to Jämtin.
“More and more people are attracted to the Social Democrats’ ideas. Our membership figures have increased in the last three years,” she said.
“We can strengthen social democracy as an open movement which is it its core working for equality and growth. That is the basis for people’s freedom. That is the ultimate goal of the social democratic movement.”
A dark horse candidate whose name only recently entered into discussions about who would success Mona Sahlin as party chair, Juholt has been a member of the Riksdag since 1994 and also serves as the party’s chair in Kalmar County in southern Sweden.
He was presented by the nomination committee at a hastily called Thursday morning meeting with chairs of the party’s local districts.
Political science professor Nicholas Aylott from Södertörn University told The Local that Juholt “sailed up into the pole position from absolutely nowhere”.
Neverthelss, Aylott didn’t think the choice was a “total surprise”, pointing out that Juholt may be just the person to mediate disputes between the party’s internal factions.
“His biggest advantage may be that the left appear to have gathered behind him without him being someone who has openly been allied with the left wing of the party,” said Aylott.
Jämtin served as Sweden’s foreign development aid minister under Göran Persson from 2003 to 2006, after which she took over as leader of the opposition in Stockholm. She is also vice chair of the Stockholm County governing board.
Juholt shot to the fore of party’s hunt for a new leader after Tomas Eneroth and Lief Pagrotsky both said no to taking over the post, as had many other top names within the party in recent weeks.
Speaking to reporters following the announcement he had been chosen to stand for the leadership post, Juholt expressed his optimism about the Social Democrats’ chances of defeating the current centre-right Alliance government.
“At this stage, I’m comfortable with the notion that the government had expected to not win the last election. I didn’t hear anyone talking about ideas, about how we would develop Sweden in the future,” said Juholt.
“Therefore, I feel that the centre-right government feels a strong threat from the opposition.”
According to political scientist Ulf Bjereld, the naming of Juholt represents a victory for the Social Democrats’ process of renewal.
“It’s a victory for those who are striving for renewal in the party and for those who blocked (Mikael) Damberg,” he told the TT news agency.
“Juholt isn’t a part of the old leadership, and therefore has a heavy burden to bear. I think it’s brave of the nomination committee because he hasn’t been a minister and is a little of an untested entity.”
Following the Social Democrats disastrous results in the most recent parliamentary elections in September 2010, Juholt was the first prominent politician to support a demand made by the head of the party’s youth organisation SSU, Jytte Guteland, that the party’s governing board should resign.
His opinion mattered a great deal as he was a member of the party’s governing board at the time, and a number of of other prominent Social Democrats followed Juholt’s lead.
As a result, he is seen to have played a decisive role in Sahlin’s decision to step down as party leader in November.
Juholt has spent most of his career engaged in military and defence policy, but in a recent book he slammed the party’s latest election campaign.
“There was no direction in the 2010 election; it was like a kettle of popcorn with one thing popping up after another,” he said in the book, entitled Arbetarrörelsens kris – mellan reformism och marknadsliberalism (‘The labour movement’s crisis: between reformism and market liberalism’), written by Ingemar E.L. Göransson.
In the book, he makes it clear he’s tired of the talk of renewal and says that for the last 100 years, the Social Democrats have worked to make it possible for citizens to make their choices in life a reality.
“There’s been so much damn new and shortsighted thinking from a bunch of spin doctors close to the party leadership. What sort of direction is that when we get excited about 5-6 billion in reduced value added tax for restaurants in the final days of the campaign – none at all!” Juholt said in the book.
The party plans to hold an extra congress on March 25th-27th at which time the Social Democrats new leader will be formally appointed.