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How Sweden's election works

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09:54 CEST+02:00
Election night with The Local

The Local will be keeping you up-to-date with the latest results from the Swedish general election. We will also report results from local elections in Sweden's main cities as they come in, as well as the result from the referendum on the Stockholm congestion charge.

Sweden's electoral system is based on proportional representation – so the percentage of votes won by each party across the country is intended to be reflected in the composition of the 349-seat Riksdag.

So far, so simple. And indeed, if there is a clear winner in Sunday's election, nobody in Sweden apart from the political science boffins will need to worry themselves about the quirks of the electoral system.

But quirks there are, and if things are as close as many polls suggest, then we may all start to find out more about the Swedish electoral system than we ever wanted to know. If you want to know what might be in store, keep reading.

How does voting work in Sweden?

Constituencies

Sweden has 29 geographically defined constituencies, each of which has between 2 and 34 seats. There is one multi-member constituency covering the whole country.

Most geographical constituencies correspond to a county. However, Stockholm County is divided in two, Skåne into four and Västra Götaland (the Gothenburg area) into five.

Party lists

Voters cast votes for party lists, and are able to indicate a preference for a particular candidate on the list. If they don't express a preference, the candidates are chosen depending on their position on the list.

The Riksdag has 349 seats. Of these, 310 are distributed according (for the benefit of electoral boffins) to the modified St-Laguë method.

This means that to obtain a seat, a party must obtain at least 4 percent of the total votes in the country or at least 12 percent of the votes in a given constituency. For a candidate to get elected thanks to personal votes, they need to get at least 8 percent of the votes for their party in their constituency.

The remaining 39 seats are distributed only to parties gaining over 4 percent of the national vote. These seats are distributed exactly according to each party's share of the vote, and parties that have only obtained seats thanks to the 12 percent rule are excluded.

When do we find out who won?

On the night

Election night on Sunday kicks off in earnest as the polls close at 8pm. At this point, polling companies release their exit polls, which are usually pretty accurate in predicting who has won. Naturally, the closer things are, the greater the chance that the exit poll has predicted the wrong winner.

Results start coming in almost immediately, with constituencies in the far north of Sweden usually declaring first. Officials at the Swedish Election Authority say it is usually possible to get a general impression of how things are panning out by around 9:30pm.

Counting the votes

All votes, including advance votes and postal votes, are counted straight after the polls close. The municipal election committee in each municipality then takes the votes to the county administrative board. Only the votes of parties expected to take seats are reported on the night. This, they say, enables a preliminary result to be issued earlier.

When the votes for the political parties whose votes are being reported have been counted, the results are phoned in to the Swedish Election Authority in Stockholm, which enters them into a database. These results are released immediately on the authority's website and delivered to news agencies.

As the evening progresses, a more concrete picture is likely to emerge. The parties will monitor the results from their election night parties in Stockholm and around the country. Election night programming on SVT will finish at 1am, as will the parties' parties. If no result has emerged by then, politicians and the public could have an agonizing wait until Wednesday to find out who won.

Wednesday: D-Day

If the election is so close that results on Sunday night look inconclusive, it will all hang on the results of late-arriving postal votes. These are counted by Wednesday, and the Swedish Election Authority sends a memo containing the results to the parliamentary election council, which is responsible for trying disputes arising from elections. This memo contains the final election results.

On Thursday, the speaker of the Riksdag, Björn von Sydow, gets a list of exactly who is elected to parliament. He will have already been meeting with party leaders to discuss who can form the next government. He is then able to formally appoint a prime minister, who is the person who is considered best able to command a majority in the Riksdag – usually the leader of the largest party in the largest political bloc.

What happens

...if the Left wins?

If the left-wing bloc wins, things continue pretty much as normal in many respects. Göran Persson would not need to resign and be reappointed, he simply stays in his position. Assuming he doesn't win an outright majority, however, he would immediately set about trying to negotiate with other parties, most likely the Left and Green parties.

...if the Alliance wins?

If the Alliance has over 50 percent of the votes in total, the current government will resign, but will be reappointed as a transitional government, so whatever happens, Sweden will not have a new government for the next few days. When the composition of the new government has been decided, the old government will leave office for good.

...if there's stalemate?

The big imponderable is what happens if the election is so close that neither bloc has a mandate to govern. This could happen if a small party with which none of the major parties were willing to cooperate held the balance of power in the Riksdag.

If this happens, one of two scenarios could result: first, some kind of grand coalition involving parties from both blocs (perhaps unlikely now that all the right-wing parties have said they would not help Persson to stay in government). The second option would be a minority government in the short term and new elections in a few months.

In an election as close as this, prepare for the unexpected. Whatever happens, The Local will be keeping an eye on events in real time.

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