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The Swedish Governmental System

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On 15 September, 2002, the Swedish people went to vote for a new government. But how do you vote in Sweden and what do you vote for, which parties are there and how do they run the country? This is a short guide to the Swedish governmental system.

How to Pull the Strings

In Sweden, the decisions are made by the people in Sweden's Riksdag1. There are 349 places in the Riksdag, each one is filled by one member (or mandate), elected by the people of Sweden. The Riksdag's main job is to decide laws and regulations, which are then to be carried out by the government. Up until 1973, there were 350 places, but that year the two political wings both got 175 mandates each and the polls had to be determined by a lottery.

The members of the Riksdag are all members of one of the seven Swedish political parties. The more votes each party gets on election day, the more places they can take in the Riksdag; the more places in the Riksdag, the higher the chance that they can count on Riksdag discussions going in their favour.

The seven parties are the ones which in the last election got more than 4% of the votes of the electorate. Each party must have at least 4% of all votes or 28% of all votes in one vote district, otherwise they will not be allowed to have any seats. These parties are listed below, together with their most distinctive opinions, their ratings in the last election (at the time of writing) and a short description of their history.

Who Pulls the Strings?

The Swedish parties are divided in two blocks, or wings: the left wing, ie the more socialist parties and the right wing, ie the more conservative parties. Let's start from the left.

Vänsterpartiet (VP)

Vänsterpartiet (which translates as The Left Party) are the most left-wing party in the Swedish Riksdag2. They have for a long time fought hard for equal rights in society; they were against Sweden's entry into EU and similarly are against Sweden's entry into the European Monetary Union and are against nuclear power. They have also campaigned for the disappearance of 'grades' in elementary school.

The Left Party was formed in the spring of 1917 when the Social democratic board of directors gave the far left-wing elements of the party an ultimatum; leave the party or bow to our opinions.

The result was the Social-democratic Left-party' (SSV), which later became the 'Communist Party' (SKP) when other left-wing parties joined them. The newly-founded party was a non-militaristic, internationalist party.

In 1929, the party's board demanded loyalty, which resulted in the party splitting, the ones who separated from the board became 'The Socialist Party' which soon transformed into a completely national-socialist party, but which had disintegrated by 1945.

During the 1930s, the main focus was on trying to fight fascism and, during the Cold War, the party fought against nuclear weapons and for unilateral disarmament. In 1967, the party's loyalty to the Soviet Union was questioned and abandoned; the party was split once more and changed name to 'The Left Party - The Communists' and then to just 'The Left Party' which is what they are today. Their symbol is a small red rose in the center of a V.

In the 2002 election, they got 8.3% of the vote and 30 mandates, which means their share of seats in the Riksdag decreased by 3.7%

Socialdemokraterna (s)

Socialdemokraterna, The Social Democratic Party, is the ruling party at time of writing. They won the last election with a percentage of 39.9% of all votes. The current leader of the party, and Prime Minister of Sweden, is Göran Persson.

They support entry into the EMU and are against nuclear power (even though they were the ones who brought it to Sweden in the first place). The Social Democrats now have 144 mandates in the Riksdag and in the last election they increased their power by 3.5%. They have been the largest party in Sweden for over 30 years, founded in 1889 by dissatisfied workers.

The party's original name translated as 'Sweden's Social Democratic Labour Party', though they were generally known as the SAP. Their main issues were workers' and equal rights. Their emphasis was on democracy, which meant that reforms would come slowly and gradually, with the support of the labour union movement. However, it was often the case that any worker who was discovered to be an SAP-member by his employer would often be fired and blacklisted, and was thus prevented from being hired by any other employer.

In that same year, the International Socialist Congress agreed to make 1 May International Labourers Demonstration Day. The day was first celebrated in 1889, though it took until 1938 before it became a national holiday.

In 1921, the first two female members of SAP joined after the women's right to vote came to Sweden. Their first landmark came in 1932 when SAP won their first election. Sweden was then, much like the rest of the world, in a financial crisis and there was a high unemployment rate. SAP had to deal with this issue and through the entrance of the wealth-tax, more money was freed up to make way for more jobs. This was a major turning point in Swedish economics and politics.

On 28 February, 1986, the first assassination of a Swedish politician in modern history took place when the then leader of the Social Democrats, Olof Palme, was fatally shot when coming out of a cinema with his wife in central Stockholm. No one has ever been convicted for the murder.

The Social Democrats held the public election that allowed Sweden to enter the EU in 1995. Their symbol is a red rose.

Miljöpartiet de gröna (mp)

Miljöpartiet de gröna or 'The Green Party' is a party that has the environment at its core. It is a party unique in one way: although the party claims to be non-conservative, it has chosen to stand outside the two 'wings' described earlier. They have been balancing on the 4% barrier for over a year now and kept their last rating at 4.6% of the votes. This is probably because they are the youngest party in the Riksdag and therefore also the smallest.

Founded in 1981 because none of the other parties took the Earth's future seriously enough, the Green Party has finally gained enough seats to bring their environmentally-friendly issues to the Riksdag.

After the vote on nuclear power in 1980, the Swedish people cried out for a party which could provide them with an alternative source of power when nuclear power is abandoned in 2010 (according to the vote). The Green Party first ran in the election of 1982 and won several city council posts but did not manage to get 4% of the votes and did therefore not get into the Parliament. In 1988 however, they got in with 5.5%. Though they were in and out of the Riksdag for the following ten years, the 1998 years election saw them achieve a 4.5% share, and 2002 they got 4.6%.

Rather than having a traditional party leader, The Green Party has chosen instead for more democracy in the form of two spokespersons - Maria Wetterstrand and Peter Eriksson. Their symbol is a yellow flower on a green background.

Folkpartiet Liberalerna (fp)

'Folkpartiet Liberalerna', Sweden's Liberal Party, was founded in 1934 and is currently led by Lars Leijonborg. The Liberal Party enjoyed an impressive election year i 2002 - the party's chairman (who, at the beginning of the year, was in danger of being fired), is now praised after SLP's surprise leap from a low 4.7% to an amazing 13.3%, a 15-year high for the party.

They are pro-EU but are somewhat critical of the way it currently operates. They are also in support of the EMU and for a more careful environmental living. They, like most of the parties in the right wing, think that schools should introduce grades for pupils at an earlier stage than they currently do. SLP has had one government of its own and several others through coalition governments.

During SLP's years, it has been able to fulfil its dream; in 1989, SLP played a part in the Great Tax Reform (that meant considerably lower marginal taxes), which the party has been fighting for since its foundation in 1934.

During World War II, they protected the collective government's democratic rights from being compromised. Their symbol is a blue and white cornflower, the flower of the suffrage movement.

Centerpartiet (c)

'Centerpartiet', the Centre Party, is after the last election the smallest party of the Right Wing parties, with only 6.2%, even though that is and increase with 1.1% since 1998.

Of course they have not always been the smallest party, their best time was during the 1960s and 1970s when they were second-largest party, before they decided to join the right side, earlier they had done like the Green Party and stood outside the two wings. Their party leader is Maud Olofsson, the second female party leader in Sweden.

The Centre Party was created as a response to SAPs ignorance to the problems of the agricultural society of Sweden, since SAP foremost concentrated on the new growing industrial society. Upset, mistreated farmers, joined together and founded a farmer - or countryside - party. These parties existed all around the world, most in Europe however, where they worked against fascism between the world wars.

During World War II, most of these parties were scattered, except the one in Sweden - The Farming Federation - which called out for a collective government in which all parties but the communists would protect Sweden. This became a reality after the Soviet Union's attack upon Finland in 1939.

The Centre Party has, like The Green Party, very environmentally-friendly policies. They have been fighting for the discontinued use of Sweden's nuclear power plants and to decrease pollution in general. In the current Parliament, they have 22 mandates.

Their symbol is a green four-leafed clover on yellow background.

Moderaterna (m)

'Moderata Samlingspartiet' - also known as the Moderate Party or the Moderators - has traditionally been the largest of the right-wing parties. The Moderate Party has been around since 1904, though back then they called themselves Almänna Valmansförbundet (AVF) or 'The Right Party'. They became 'The Moderate Party' in 1969.

Though they maintained their lead after the 2002 election, it was with a considerably reduced majority. Instead of enjoying a great year as was expected by analysts, their support plunged down from 22.9 to 15.9%. Despite this, their chairman, Bo Lundgren, was allowed to remain - his first order of business was to fire all of the party board.

In 1921 - which saw the first Swedish election where women were allowed to vote - AVF got 25.8% of the votes. Their most sucessful election was in 1928 with 29.4%, their worst was in 1970 with 11.6% - not far the result of the 2002 election.

They have traditionally supported demands for increased funds for defence, more help to the agricultural society and a proposal for common pension rights. They and Kristdemokraterna voted against the proposal to allow homosexuals to adopt. They have been the largest right-wing party since 1976, the same year they were beaten by the Centre Party. Their symbol is a blue 'M' with five big, blue circles in the corners of the M.

Kristdemokraterna (kd)

'Kristdemokraterna', the Christian Democratic Party, was created in 1969 but did not get a firm position in the Riksdag until 1991; they did have one mandate in 1985 who left the Riksdag three years later. Their chairman, Alf Svensson is the longest sitting party leader, from 1972 to present date.

They campaign for teachings of Christian morality in schools, which at present are supposed to be neutral in these matters. In a similar way they are also opposed to gay adoption because it may cause a child to be bullied and stigmatised.

Their first chairman died three years after the founding of the party. Their symbol is a white daisy with green leaves and stem on a blue background. They lost 1.6% in the last election and now have 33 mandates in the Riksdag.

The Social Democrats got 39.9%- the majority of the votes but not the majority of the Swedish people, so how can they be in control?

Different Ways to Pull the Strings

Minority Governments

When a party has less than the majority3of the votes when the counting is finished, they can form a 'minority government'. This means that even though more than half of the population didn't vote for them, they still got more votes than anyone else, and so are in a better position than any other party to form a government. The downside of this is that with less than the majority of the mandates in the Riksdag, their proposals may not be passed. The current government in Sweden is a minority government with the Social Democrats. The good side of it is that it is easier to create a government this way.

Majority Governments

When a party has gotten more than 50.01% of the votes they can form a majority government that means that a particular party, The Social Democrats for example, have got 175 or more seats in the Riksdag. The positive side of it is obvious enough; with majority of Social Democrats in the Riksdag, there is a great chance that their proposals will go through (of course there may be Social Democratic members of the Riksdag that don't agree with all the opinions of their party, although that is rare).

Coalitional Governments

Even if one party gains the largest share of the vote, they can still be blocked from taking office. Two or more of the losing parties could agree to join with other parties and join their seats in the Riksdag to outnumber the party with the most votes4.

  • Example One - In the 2002 election, The SDs got 39.9%. In order to beat them, the Moderate Party suggested a coalitional government between Moderaterna (15.1%), Folkpartiet (13.3%), Kristdemokraterna (9.1%) and Centerpartiet (6.2%) with a grand total of 44% allowing them to form a minority coalition government. This proposal collapsed because of differing opinions among the parties.

  • Example Two - The SD suggested a coalition between Socialdemokraterna (39.9%), Vänsterpartiet (8.3%) and Miljöpartiet (4.6%) with a grand total of 53% and allowing them to create a majority coalitional government. This proposal collapsed because the Socialdemokraterna leader Göran Persson refused to give Vänsterpartiet or Miljöpartiet any minister posts. The downside of coalitional governments are that sometimes the parties involved may not agree on all issues. The good side is that, on issues where they agree, they are unlikely to be overruled.

Collective Governments

Collective governments are often created when the country is in crisis. In a collective government, all parties from the Riksdag are joined in a government to make sure Sweden survives. Sweden has had a collective government once; between 1939-1945, where all parties but the communists were involved. In 1945, the collective government was disassembled.

Now we know how to do it, but how do you decide who shall do what and how do you vote? Where do you go and what do you write?

How to Vote

The Swedish people go to vote on the third Sunday of September in every fourth year, the election locations are decided as follows: Sweden is divided into 5976 election districts. Each district has its own places that the people have to go to vote, based on which town and which distrcit they live in.

Example: if a person lives in the south square area in district xxxx of Mullsjö, that person will receive a letter with their voting number and instructions on where they should go to vote.

Who Will I Pick?

Inside the voting location, there are three booths. On a desk there are three ballots for each party. They all represent different governmental posts which the voter to vote for:

  • The first ballot is white and represents the election for city council posts; the ballot shows all the party's alternatives for city councils.

  • The second ballot is blue and represents the party's alternatives for regional (or 'county') councils.

  • The third ballot shows the party's candidates for members of the Riksdag.

On the ballots, the candidates are listed with the party's first choice on top of the list, the second choice is next, and so on. The voter can then mark one of these names on there by moving them to the top of the list and making that person his or her first hand choice.

If the voter does not mark a specific name, it means he/she accept the party's first choice. The voter then makes these three choices, one party and candidate for city Council, one party and candidate for county Council and one party and candidate for member of the Riksdag. The voter may vote for different parties in the three categories and does not have to vote for all three posts or at all.

And the Winner Is...

When the polling booths are closed, the counting begins. The votes are counted, re-counted and counted again, until the final number is sent to the election committee in Stockholm.

At this time, all the channels are covering the counting, showing last-minute interviews and graphs of the two wings and the parties. Once all districts have been counted the winner is announced, this is when the Champagne comes in to the picture.

The next day, the parties begin negotiating with each other to try and see if they can gain ground through the methods described above. The party that after half a month is in the lead can form a cabinet.

That's when the new ministers are chosen, the new Prime Minister decides who becomes what, if the old ministers should stay or go. There is also no exact figure of how many ministers are needed although some posts have to be filled according to the fundamental law of Sweden.

Once the Prime Minister has decided and built up his cabinet of ministers, the new government is brought to the King for his approval (purely ceremonial) and then its time to go to work.

Other Votes

In other issues that are decided important enough to be voted by the Swedish population, voting takes place merely like at election. The people go to the place where they voted and are handed voting papers with the alternatives in the question and they mark one option. The option that gets the most votes in this round wins.

In 1955, the cabinet called a vote as to whether Sweden should change over to right-hand traffic or not, 82.9% said no, but the government decided to change to right-hand anyway, to bring the country in line with the rest of mainland Europe. In 1980, a vote to determine the future of nuclear power in Sweden took place. 38% were against nuclear power, 39% said we should keep it until 2010.

In 1995, the Swedish people vote yes to join EU with a marginal of 6%.

Puppeteers from the Dark Side

A big problem in Sweden is the growing number of strong national-socialist parties, mainly because they are sometimes hard to spot.

1In the UK this would be Parliament, in the USA, Congress.2The former party leader of the Left Party, Gudrun Schyman, retired on 26 January, 2003, and, at the time of writing, no new party leader has been appointed.3Less than 50.01% of the votes4This is of course impossible when a party has won an overall majority of the votes

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