Sweden seeks return to stability

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

As a result of the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme, Sweden's ruling Social Democrats experienced a surge in popularity, according to an opinion poll released Sunday. The poll showed that 48.6 percent of Swedes supported the Social Democrats, an increase of 6 percent from the last poll before Palme's assassination. Officials at the Swedish Institute for Public Opinion research said the surge in popularity was similar to phenomena in other countries following assassinations.

The poll indicated that Swedish politics is a mixture of aftershocks to the nation's first political murder in nearly 200 years and attempts to return to political normalcy. Indications are that Swedish politics will be more subdued following the assassination.

A regularly scheduled foreign policy debate in the Riksdag last week was termed ``courteous,'' with the Moderate Coalition Party's foreign affairs spokesman Carl Bildt expressing support for Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson's planned visit to the Soviet Union in mid-April.

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External economic developments have taken the heat out of several other major issues. With falling oil prices, economists at two major Swedish banks last week said that Sweden's economic outlook has brightened considerably.

Lower oil prices and a weaker dollar mean lower inflation, the economists said, and that the income of Swedish households will increase in real terms even without substantial wage increases. The weak dollar will also cut some of the export profits that big Swedish corporations have been earning. That, together with increased purchasing power for the average Swede, will help defuse a conflict that had been brewing within the Social Democratic party before Palme's death.

Early in the year, thousands of union members signed a petition calling for a change in the government's economic policy. They demanded a sharp increase in wages and taxes on corporate windfalls and on speculation on the booming Stockholm stock exchange. The petition was seen as a grassroots revolt against the middle-of-the road economic policies of Economy and Budget Minister Kjell-Olof Feldt and in favor of a more left-wing tack by the Social Democratic party.

In the hunt for Palme's murderer, Sweden lost more of the innocence that was torn away by the murder. Enormous press speculation around a possible suspect ended with his surprise release. Victor Gunnarsson, a man held as a prime suspect, was released for insufficent evidence. Stockholm police commissioner Hans Holmer blasted the press for starting a ``witch trial'' of the suspect and for publishing his name and picture in some papers. Swedish newspapers usually follow a strict ethical rule of not publishing the names of criminal suspects, even when these are available in public records. But one editor of a daily said in this case the news value outweighed the ethical standard.

More than three weeks after the killing, the police still had no leads they were willing to discuss, and the assassination was, once again, a near total mystery.

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