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Parliamentary system


The Parliament


All public power in Sweden comes from the people. This is the first sentence in the Swedish constitution. The people are represented by the parliament. The Swedish parliament, Riksdagen, has since 1970, a unicameral system. It has 349 members who are elected in proportional elections for a period of four years at a time. The term of office was recently extended (in 1994) from three to four years.

The foremost representative for Riksdagen is The Speaker (Talmannen) who acts as chairman at the sittings of Parliament; these sittings are generally public. Talmannen also has an important task in the formation of the government, and serves as head of state when no other duly qualified person is obtainable. Since 2002 Björn von Sydow is the Speaker.

The Parliament passes laws, controls the State's incomes and expenditures, even though the work with the budget is dominated by the Government. The Government can not impose a new tax on its own; taxation is ruled by laws and as Parliament is the legislator, thus it has the power over taxation. It is the government that executes the decisions, but it is Riksdagen that supervises that the laws are correctly implemented and the decisions carried out. For this purpose, special accountants and Parliamentary Commissioners for the Judiciary and Civil Administration (justitieombudsman) are selected. The Ombudsman is Sweden's most important contribution to the international constitutional development. Riksdagen also has a constitutional committe (konstitutionsutskottet KU) which scrutinises the government's work, especially the application of the constitution.

The right to vote in the general election has every Swedish citizen of age (eighteen), provided that he or she is listed in the electoral register. Swedish citizens living abroad have the right to vote if all the other conditions above are fulfilled, provided that he or she has been registered for census purposes in Sweden. The participation in the election is generally high in Sweden (between 1970 and 1994 it has ranged from 88.3% to 91.8%).

The number of female M.P.'s in Riksdagen is one of the highest in the world. After the 1994 election, approximately 40% of the M.Ps are women. Some of the political parties have decided that every second name on their lists of nomination for election, has to be a woman.

The committees are of great significance in the Swedish parliament. Every matter must be referred to a committee, (Utskott) for a pronouncement. This is especially important when the government isn't in majority. Then many of the agreements and compromises are worked out in the committees. The committee meetings are in general not public.

The foreign policy is the political area where the parliament traditionally has less influence than the government, but the parliament has the possibility to examine the decisions and agreements with foreign powers. Riksdagen has a special institution for contacts with the government in foreign-policy matters, this institution is called Utrikesnämnden. The line between foreign and domestic policy has, however, become more blurred, especially after Sweden's entrance into the European Union.

Government

The Swedish form of government is a parliamentary democratic monarchy. The Head of State is the king, but he has no authority in the governing of the state. It is the government, Regeringen - consisting of the prime minister and the other ministers - that governs the state and is answerable to the parliament, Riksdagen. Parliamentarism means that Riksdagen must have confidence in Regeringen. Sweden applies a so-called negative parliamentarism, which means that Regeringen can stay in office as long as Riksdagen does not openly show a lack of confidence.

The chairman of Riksdagen, The Speaker (Talmannen) plays an important role in the formation of a new government. After the general election, the Speaker proposes a new prime minister to Riksdagen. The prime minister candidate is accepted if less than one half of the members of parliament votes against him or her. Laid-down votes are hence counted as votes in favour of the candidate. The new prime minister, Statsministern, then selects the other ministers, called Statsråd.

In Sweden, the parliament, Riksdagen, has the legislative power and the government, Regeringen, has the executive power. Regeringen is also responsible for the administration. The administration in Sweden has since the 16th century been relatively centralised. In the last few decades some attempts to decentralise the administration have been made, but it has mostly been a matter of moving central authorities away from the capital, Stockholm, to other parts of the country. The central authority has representatives at the regional level; these authorities are called Länsstyrelse.

In Sweden, only a very few and minor matters are decided upon by the individual minister. As a rule, all matters are resolved at meetings with the whole government.

For the preparation of different matters, the ministers have officials in ministries (Departement). These ministries are divided by the matters they handle. In the constitution nothing is said about how many ministries there should be and what areas they should cover, therefore their number and sphere of activity vary somewhat with different governments.

Official homepage of the Swedish government

Parties

The Swedish party system has, for a long time, been one of the most stable party systems in the world. Up until the 1988 election the same five parties dominated the political stage for almost seven decades. These five are the Social Democratic party (Socialdemokratiska Arbetar Partiet, SAP), the Conservatives (Moderata Samlingspartiet, M), the Liberals (Folkpartiet liberalerna, Fp), the Centre party (Centern, C ) and the Left Wing (Vänsterpartiet Vp).

In the 1988 election environmental problems became a great issue in the election campaign and a green party (Miljöpartiet de gröna, Mp) entered the stage and received 5.5 % of the vote, and 20 seats in the Swedish parliament, Riksdagen. Since then, the system has become more unstable. Mp lost their seats in 1991 but reentered in 1994; the Christian Democrats ( Kristdemokratiska Samlingspartiet, KDS) has entered Riksdagen and a new party, called New Democracy (Ny Demokrati) entered in 1991 and disappeared in 1994.

The Swedish party system has been called a "modified two-party system" despite the number of parties in the parliament. This is because of the division in two blocs (one socialistic with SAP and Vp and one liberal/conservative bloc of M, Fp and C) of approximately the same size, from which both can form a government. The Social Democrats, however, did for almost half a century dominate Swedish politics. Their dominance has now weakened somewhat but they are still the single largest party.

Several of the Swedish political parties have one thing in common; they have their roots in different popular movements formed at the turn of the last century, as for example the labour movement, the temperance movement and nonconformist movement. They have therefore (or at least have had) a very strong position in Swedish society. The Conservative party, however, was created from groupings within the parliament.

The Constitution

Sweden has a written Constitution (Grundlag) since the middle of the 14th century, but it is not one single constitution. Instead it is now four constitutions. They are called Regeringsformen ( form of government), Successionsordningen (order of succession), Tryckfrihetsförordningen (press law) and Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen (constitution for freedom of speech).

There are special regulations when changing the constitutions. To make a change in the constitution, the parliament, Riksdagen must make two identical decisions with a general election in between. Thus a short-term trend in opinion can not change the constitution.

The current constitution was singed in 1974. Several changes and additions to the old constitution from 1809 had been made; this had, however, only little effect on the original principal for distribution of powers and a new de facto constitution had developed beside the old written constitution. Therefore the need of a new de jure constitution. Its predecessor from 1809 was, when declared invalid, the oldest written constitution in Europe, exceeded only by the constitution of the United States.

The latest change in the Swedish constitution was made in connection with Sweden's entrance into the European Union and the extension of the term of office for the members of parliament.

The Monarchy

Sweden is a monarchy and the king is the Head of State but he has no longer any authority in the governing of the state. The king's task is of representative and ceremonial character. He has a symbolic function.

But this has not always been the case. In the 1809 Constitution, which was valid until 1974, the king had the formal power to govern the country. It was the king who appointed and dismissed the ministers and he was the highest military commander, among other things. The king's authority had declined even before the change of constitution in 1974. The last king who actively tried to influence parliament was King Gustaf V during World War II.
The Royal Family

The Royal Family

The restriction of the king's authority has been an important question for the Labour movement. The Social Democratic and the Left Wing party still have a clause about the abolition of the monarchy in their party programmes, but today it seems more to be a matter of symbolic value. No serious claims for abolition of the monarchy are heard today.

The present king, King Carl XVI Gustaf was born in 1946, the son of Prince Gustav Adolf and Princess Sibylla. He became king after his grandfather's, King Gustav VI Adolf, death in 1973. In 1976 the king married Silvia Sommerlath and they have three children: crown princess Victoria, prince Carl Philip and princess Madeleine.

Until 1980 the crown was inherited by men only (agnatic succession), but in 1980 the order of succession was changed to strictly cognatic succession, which means that both male and female descendants to King Carl XVI Gustaf have the right to the throne. An elder sister or brother takes precedence over a younger sister or brother. Thus crown princess Victoria will become Queen and Head of State after her father.

The royal family does not live in the royal Palace of Stockholm. Instead they have lived in the Palace of Drottningholm outside of Stockholm since 1982. The king is known for his great interest in nature and environmental questions, he is Chairman of Honour in the World Scout Federation and chairman of honor of the swedish WWF.
Official homepage of the Swedish Royal Court

The prime minister

In Sweden the head of the government, the prime minister, is called Statsminister and the office was created in 1876. In early 1996 Göran Persson succeeded Ingvar Carlsson as party leader of the Social Democratic party and subsequently became Statsminister.

In Sweden, as in other countries, there is a trend towards leaving more power in the hands of the prime minister. It is, for example, he or she who selects the rest of the government, appoints some of the ministers and also has the right to dismiss ministers. If the prime minister resigns then all the other ministers are dismissed.

Maybe the internationally most well-known Swedish politician was Olof Palme. He was Social Democratic prime minister in 1982 - 1986. On the 28th February 1986, Olof Palme was gunned down in the centre of Stockholm and Sweden got its own "Kennedy-murder". The assassin is still at large. Ingvar Carlsson, then vice prime minister, abruptly took Palmes place. He lost his position when the conservative coalition won the 1991 elections but was reinstalled as prime minister after forming a minority government after the 1994 elections. In 1995 Ingvar Carlsson announced his wish to retire as party leader. The former minister of finance Göran Persson was chosen as his successor.

The Ombudsman

The ombudsman is a Swedish invention which many other countries have imported. The office for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Judiciary and Civil Administration, (Justitieombudsmannen JO) was first created in connection with the 1809 constitutional reform, as the parliament's organ for control of the administration. As a result of later constitutional development, the situation for JO has changed. Even from the beginning, individuals had the possibility to turn to JO with their complaints of the administration and of civil servants, but the protection of individual rights and just and correct administration is now the main task.

JO handles complaints of the authorities and civil servants from the public or acts on its own initiative. JO's work is regulated by the constitution. JO has the right to: make investigations; recommend actions; publish reports and to bring an action against negligent servants. The parliament appoints JO for a period of four years, but the parliament can not give instructions for action in single cases.

The JO office has led to the creation of several other kinds of ombudsman-offices, for example Konsumentombudsmannen - for consumer matters, Jämställdhets-ombudsmannen – for matters of equality and Diskrimineringsombudsmannen – for matters of discrimination. It has also led to ombudsman-offices in other countries. There are approximately 80 ombudsman-offices in approximately 30 countries.

The Committees

After the 1994 elections there are 16 committees in Riksdagen. They are:
  • The Constitution, Konstitutionsutskottet KU
  • Finance, Finansutskottet
  • Taxation, Skatteutskottet
  • the Administration of Justice, Justitieutskottet
  • Laws, Lagutskottet
  • Foreign Affairs, Utrikesutskottet
  • Defence, Försvarsutskottet
  • Social Insurance, Socialförsäkringsutskottet
  • Social Welfare, Socialutskottet
  • Cultural Affairs, Kulturutskottet
  • Education, Utbildningsutskottet
  • Communication, Trafikutskottet
  • Agriculture, Jordbruksutskottet
  • Economic Affairs, Näringsutskottet
  • Labour, Arbetsmarknadsutskottet
  • Housing, Bostadsutskottet

Utrikesnämnden

There are nine members proportionally chosen from the parliament plus the speaker in Utrikesnämden, the panel for parliamentary control over foreign affairs The panel is an organ for consultation. It does not make decisions. The chairman at the panel meetings is the head of state, the king or his deputy; the deputy-chairman is the prime minister.

Länsstyrelse

The State's representative at the regional level is called länsstyrelse. Their task is to implement the government's decisions and handle the regional administration. The länsstyrelse is directly subordinated to the Government. The head of the Länsstyrelse is called Landshövding and is appointed by the Government. The other officials are chosen by the regional authority and this reflects the second task of the Länsstyrelse. The Länsstyrelse should also protect the region's interests on the national level.
Länstyrelserna

Parties

SAP, Socialdemokratiska Arbetarpartiet

Founded: 1897
Party leader: Göran Persson (also Prime Minister)
The Social Democratic has been the dominating force in Swedish politics for the past 60 years. SAP began as a traditional Labour party, but has now become more of a party for middle class white-collar workers, particularly public servants.
Socialdemokratiska Arbetarpartiet

Moderata samlingspartiet

Founded: 1904
Party leader: Fredrik Reinfeldt

M is the biggest of the non-socialistic parties in Sweden today and their party leader Carl Bildt was prime minister 1991-1994. Their policy swings between traditional conservative, neo-liberal, social-conservative and liberal-conservative or different mixes of these.
Moderata samlingspartiet

Folkpartiet liberalerna

Founded: 1902
Party leader: Lars Leijonborg

In the same way as the conservatives, the Liberal party was formed from groupings within the parliament. The party fought for extension of the right to vote. When this was achieved, the party broke up in two because of disagreement on the question of prohibition. In 1934, there was a reunion of the party.
Folkpariet Liberalerna

Centerpartiet

Founded: 1914
Party leader: Maud Olofsson

Centerpartiet started out as an agrarian party. As the number of farmers declined, the party tried to find a new identity. It is now more of a party for people living in sparsely-populated areas, which is something we have a whole lot of in Sweden.. It also has a strong environmental profile.
Centerpartiet

Vänsterpartiet

Founded: 1917
Party leader: Lars Ohly

Vänsterpartiet ("The Left Party") has recently dropped the word "Communism" from its name, but many of its leaders consider themselves communists. The party is strongly opposed to Swedish membership in the European Union.
Vänsterpartiet

Miljöpartiet de Gröna

Founded: 1981
Party leader: Mp doesn't have a party leader, they have one spokesman and one spokeswoman

When the seals were dying on the Swedish west coast, the Swedish voters became aware of the pollution of the environment and voted for the "green party". (Actually the seals died from a virus, not from pollution.) In 1988 Mp literally danced into Parliament. One mandate period later, they had to leave, but in 1994 the opposition against Swedish membership in the European Union helped bring them back.
Miljöpartiet de Gröna

Kristdemokratiska samhällspartiet

Founded: 1964
Party leader: Göran Hägglund

KDS began as a Christian action group for the preservation of religious instruction as a subject in Swedish schools. The forming of a political party can be seen as a protest against the growing secularisation of Swedish society at the time. In contrast to Christian democratic parties in other West and Central European countries, KDS is not based on a Catholic tradition but on nonconformist tradition.
Kristdemokratiska samhällspartiet

Photo: Copyright © Kamerareportage


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