Swedes, under new leader, now look to challenges ahead. Disturbing questions remain in wake of Palme funeral

Prime Minister Olof Palme's funeral Saturday marked the end of two weeks of tears and red roses in Sweden. The red roses -- a symbol of Sweden's Social Democratic Party -- were piled high on the spot where Mr. Palme was shot on Feb. 28.

Many people along the route of the funeral procession were visibly moved, casting roses as the coffin passed. Representatives of 132 nations, including United States Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, came to pay their last respects at a service in Stockholm City Hall.

Now, under the leadership of new Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, Swedes prepare to tackle the tasks of political and public life.

Some sharpness and passion will undoubtedly be missing from Swedish politics, partly because the nation is still stunned but mainly because Palme is gone.

``No politician could get me as angry as Olof Palme sometimes did,'' said Ulf Adelsohn, leader of the Conservative Moderate Party, while at the same time admitting that Palme possessed great charm. Mr. Adelsohn's party, together with other opposition parties, narrowly lost to Palme's Social Democrats in the 1985 elections.

The burning questions for many Swedes, despite the arrest of a possible suspect last week, are: Who killed Palme -- and why?

In a eulogy before the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament, opposition leader Adelsohn spoke of the ``light years'' that separated all democratic Swedes from the perpetrators of Palme's murder.

Are the forces behind Palme's assassination truly different, truly ``light years'' from the apparently peaceful, liberal, and tolerant Swedes? No one knows.

The suspect ordered held last week for investigation of possible involvement in Palme's murder is described as a devoutly religious and anticommunist Swedish male in his mid-30s. Police said yesterday that the prosecutor's office would decide today whether to formally charge the suspect or release him.

Just after the murder, one Swedish official was quoted as saying, ``Please let it be a crazy Swede.'' If foreign terrorists were determined to have killed Palme, this official feared, it could stir latent antiforeign feelings in Sweden. But if Swedes were involved in what was evidently a well-planned conspiracy, it would disclose a hitherto unknown and frightening malaise in Swedish society. This would be far more alarming than the grumbling of fringe groups about immigrants, observers here say.

Such matters are likely to worry this nation until all the details of Palme's murder are solved, and that may take a long time.

But even a return to political normalcy will bring challenges for prime minister and party leader, Ingvar Carlsson, who first joined Palme's Cabinet in 1969. Carl-sson lacks experience in foreign policy. Observers here question what his policy will be toward the Soviets and on the issue of nuclear weapons.

There have been some signs that the Social Democrats may be losing ground. In the last election, many voters were drawn to the middle-of-the road Liberal Party, led by its appealing and dynamic new leader, Bengt Westerberg. Some analysts said he and his politics of social responsibility without socialism were the real winners of the election.

Indeed, there isn't much of a gap between Mr. Westerberg's ideas and the economic policies pursued by the Social Democrats since they returned to power in 1982. The government has tried to hold down wages and inflation while allowing the business sector -- especially Sweden's multinational corporations -- make record profits from export markets.

After four years of a booming Swedish stock market and what is seen as falling living standards, the Social Democrats face a rank and file revolt, an analyst here says. Before Palme's death, a petition circulated among thousands of union members demanding higher wages in real terms and limits on corporate profits and the speculative gains of rich investors.

One of Carlsson's big tests will be smoothing out strained relations with the country's powerful trade unions.

Falling inflation and a discount rate cut by the bank of Sweden recently to the lowest level in several years may cool off the unions. Carlsson must also deal with the divisions in his party and the problem of gaining enough communist votes to keep his party's majority in the Riksdag.

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