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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 September 2006, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Profiles: Swedish rivals
Election posters seen behind a woman in central Stockholm
Swedes have a wide choice of parties in Sunday's election

Sweden's opposition centre-right bloc has narrowly defeated the ruling Social Democrat party in the country's closest election race for decades.

Prime Minister Goran Persson conceded victory to Moderate party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt.

BBC Monitoring profiles the two men.

GORAN PERSSON

Goran Persson has been both Sweden's prime minister and leader of the Social Democrats - the ruling party for 65 of the last 74 years - since March 1996.

Born in January 1949 in a small town south-west of Stockholm, Mr Persson studied sociology at Orebro University from 1969 until 1971. However, he left without completing his degree to become involved with the Social Democratic Youth League.

He became the league's organising secretary in 1971 and served on its board from 1972 until 1975.

Swedish Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Goran Persson
Goran Persson has been Sweden's prime minister since 1996

After a number of years working in local government, Mr Persson became a member of parliament for the Social Democrats in 1979.

He lost his seat in the Riksdag in 1984, however, and became a local councillor in Katrineholm, south-west of Stockholm, as well as national auditor of the Swedish Co-operative Wholesale Society.

After returning to parliament in 1989, Mr Persson spent two years in the cabinet as education minister before the Social Democrats lost power.

In 1994, the Social Democrats returned to government and he was appointed finance minister. He held the post until 1996, when he succeeded Ingvar Carlsson as prime minister and party leader.

Since he took power, Mr Persson's reputation has suffered from his failure to deliver on his promise to halve unemployment to 4% by 2000. The prime minister sees unemployment, currently running at just over 6%, as "the most important question which overshadows all other tasks of government". It remains a key issue in Sunday's election.

His government was also heavily criticised for its response to the South Asian tsunami disaster in December 2004, which killed more than 500 Swedes. Mr Persson apologised in parliament for mistakes made, but his chances of extending his tenure are considered to have been damaged.

However, in the campaign he made much of Sweden's strong economy, which grew at 5.5% in the second quarter of 2006 - the highest growth rate in six years.

FREDRIK REINFELDT

Elected leader by a unanimous vote in October 2003, Fredrik Reinfeldt has been credited with transforming the Moderate Party in the months leading up to polling day.

Just over a year after taking charge, the man dubbed the "Swedish David Cameron" had succeeded in doubling the support the Moderates had in the 2002 election, when they received just 15.2% of the vote.

Moderate party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt
Mr Reinfeldt has boosted the fortunes of his Moderate Party

Mr Reinfeldt has shifted the party from the right wing to the more popular centre ground.

He has proposed reforms to Sweden's welfare state, including cutting taxes for the lowest earners and reducing unemployment benefits, to encourage the jobless to return to work.

He was born in August 1965 into a family of entrepreneurs. His father ran a training company and his mother worked in recruitment. Mr Reinfeldt has cited their experience of the difficulties of business life - "the petty aggressive attitude toward entrepreneurship" - as being one of the key factors which influenced his political activity.

At the age of 26, only a year after graduating from Stockholm University with a degree in economics, he was first elected to the Riksdag. He became the head of the Moderate Party's youth wing soon afterwards.

In autumn 2004, at the same time as he was elected overall party leader, Mr Reinfeldt helped form an alliance of the four main centre-right opposition parties: the Moderate Party, the Folk Liberal Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats.

With recent opinion polls showing the so-called Alliance for Sweden having a slight advantage over Prime Minister Goran Persson's Social Democrats, Mr Reinfeldt is now hoping to become the leader of the first centre-right government in Sweden since 1994.

Mr Reinfeldt lives in Taeby, a northern suburb of Stockholm where his wife, Filippa, is chairwoman of the local council. They have a daughter, Ebba, and two sons, Gustaf and Erik.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




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