For members


Election vocabulary: How to talk about politics like a Swede

Can't tell your valfläsk from your partiledare? Let The Local guide you through the Swedish political vocabulary you should know to hold your own in a valdebatt.

Election vocabulary: How to talk about politics like a Swede
Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson centre) partakes of the essential fuel of every Swedish election campaign: coffee. Photo: Adam Ihse /TT

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

The basics

The word for ‘election’ is val, which also means ‘choice’ and ‘whale’, just to make things extra confusing for Swedish learners. Sweden votes in three elections on the same day: riksdagsvalet (the election for the national parliament), landstingsvalet (the regional election) and kommunalvalet (the municipal election).

Swedish citizens over the age of 18 have rösträtt (right to vote). But although the national election tends to get more attention, non-citizens should know that you may still be able to rösta (vote) in the regional and local elections. If you’re röstberättigad (eligible voter) you may have received a röstkort (voting card) in the mail.

READ ALSO: Can I vote in the 2022 Swedish election? 

What röstsedlar (we’ll explain this further down) might look like in Sweden. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The campaigning

The valkampanjer (election campaigns) are underway with the parties falling over themselves trying to present the most attractive vallöften (campaign promises) or, if you want to be more cynical, valfläsk (overly generous promises; literally election pork). In squares all over Sweden you will see valstugor (election huts, where party workers talk to voters about their policies), TV listings will be full of partiledardebatter (party leader debates) and if you’re unlucky you may hear a number of floskler (empty phrases).

This campaign is quite populist in tone, so you might hear politicians denounce media commentators as proffstyckare (professional opinionators). 

Green Party spokesperson Per Bolund takes part in this year’s Pride Parade in Stockholm: Maja Suslin/TT

The voting

You will be able to förtidsrösta (vote in advance), from this week, but if you’re more traditionally-minded you can also go to your designated röstlokal (polling station) on valdagen (the day of the election).

When you’re there, you pick up the röstsedel (ballot paper) of your preferred parti (party) and put it in the valurna (ballot box). If you want you can also personrösta, which is when you tick the name of a specific candidate who you think should represent the party as riksdagsledamot (member of parliament).

Alternatively, people may choose to rösta blankt, which is when you do turn up at the polling station on the day, but instead of voting you put a blank slip of paper in the ballot box as a form of protest.

Sweden generally enjoys high valdeltagande (voter turnout). In the 2018 election more than 87 percent of eligible voters cast their vote.

Gustav Fridolin, former partiledare (party leader) of Miljöpartiet, taking part in förtidsröstning in 2018. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The contenders

The ruling Socialdemokraterna (Social Democrats) have been ruling alone in a weak minority government since the Miljöpartiet (Green Party) last November left the two-party koalitionsregering (coalition government) that had been ruling Sweden for the past two mandatperioder (terms). In January 2019, they took power again, with the support of the Centerpartiet (Centre Party) and Liberalerna (Liberal Party) under the January Agreement. 

The Liberal Party broke off the agreement in June, meaning the vänsterblocket (left bloc) consists of the Social Democrats, Greens, Left Party and Centre Party (which is normally seen as on the right). 

Their traditional opponents are högern (the right wing), formerly referred to as de borgerliga (the bourgeois – which doesn’t automatically have the same strong connotations in Swedish as in English).

In this election, though, they have teamed up with Sverigesdemokraterna (the Sweden Democrats), to form a new bloc which so far lacks an agreed name. Opposition leader Ulf Kristersson prefers to refer to them as maktskiftespartierna (the change in government parties), while the green party has taken to calling them de blåbruna (the blue-brown), a term that smears the Sweden Democrats as fascists.

READ ALSO: What sort of government might Sweden have after the election?

A partiledardebatt on Swedish television. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

The future

According to opinionsundersökningar (opinion polls), there’s unlikely to be a clear-cut winner, which means lengthy post-election förhandlingar (negotiations) and maybe blocköverskridande (bipartisan) compromises. Minoritetsregeringar (minority governments) are not uncommon in Sweden.

The talman (speaker of parliament) puts forward a proposal for a new statsminister (prime minister) to the new parliament, which votes for or against. More than half of Sweden’s 349 MPs have to vote against the förslag (proposal) to reject it, but it does not need the explicit support of a majority. Opposition parties may therefore choose to lägga ner sina röster (abstain) to make the process run smoothly if they don’t think that they themselves are strong enough to be able to bilda regering (form a government).

If the speaker’s nominee for prime minister is rejected by parliament (as happened three times after the 2018 election), he or she can repeat the process four times. If parliament is still unable to reach an agreement on the next prime minister an extra val (a new election) will be held.

Can you think of any other Swedish political words? Let us know and we’ll add them to the list.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Sweden Politics Weekly: Liberal tension and what’s next for work permits

In our weekly Sweden Elects newsletter, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains the key events to keep an eye on in Swedish politics this week.

Sweden Politics Weekly: Liberal tension and what's next for work permits


Johan Pehrson, who has been acting leader of the Liberals since Nyamko Sabuni’s sudden decision to step down in April, was two days ago formally voted in as party leader at the Liberals’ party conference in Stockholm.

His party is one of the four parties behind the Tidö Agreement, which enabled a coalition of the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals to form a government after the election, with the support of the Sweden Democrats in parliament – an awkward friendship for the Liberals, who just years ago were frequently at odds with the latter far-right party.

Pehrson showed how awkward that friendship is when he the other day was quoted by the Expressen tabloid calling them “extreme populist” and “a brown sludge” – brown in this case means far right, a reference to the brown uniforms worn by many Nazi members in the 1930s’ Nazi Germany. (The Sweden Democrats rather unsurprisingly took umbrage to these labels, as the Tidö Agreement contains a clause expressly stating that the parties should speak “respectfully about each other’s key representatives”)

“I’m not the one who dragged the crap into this deal,” said Pehrson about the parts of the Tidö Agreement that Liberals may find less than palatable, arguing that his party had blocked more hardline migration policies.

“All the volume targets are gone, all the remigration targets are gone and a whole lot of other gross things,” Expressen quoted him as saying.

What isn’t off the table is a pledge to look into converting permanent residence permits to temporary permits, perhaps even retroactively.

That’s naturally concerning to many permanent residence holders in Sweden, but it’s also worth noting that the agreement really only pledges to launch an inquiry into how to go about it and that any changes would have to “occur within the framework of basic legal principles”.

This could mean that any inquiry concludes that converting permanent permits to temporary ones just isn’t possible under current legislation.

A key principle of the Swedish system of administrative law is that if an individual receives a positive decision from authorities about whatever, that decision cannot be revoked (with some extreme exceptions), so revoking the permanence of existing permits wouldn’t be possible.

But of course, as a lawyer The Local spoke to said, we don’t really know yet what kinds of changes to Swedish legislation the inquiry will propose.

In other news

More than 600 Swedish children and young people are taking the state of Sweden to court for doing too little to combat climate change.

Sweden Democrat member of parliament Björn Söder has put forward a motion to put the King in charge of nominating a prime ministerial candidate, a job currently held by the speaker of parliament.

The King of Sweden has no formal political power whatsoever, and we’ll talk about this more in the email I send to Sweden Elects subscribers next week (update your settings here to get the newsletter delivered straight to your inbox). Söder isn’t going to find much parliamentary support for his motion by the way; he’s put forward several similar motions in the past without success.

The ruling Moderate party’s youth wing has a new leader, Douglas Thor, who has said he wants the youth wing to be less ideological and focus more on policies that are practically possible to implement.

One of the MPs who was keen to take over as leader of the Centre Party when Annie Lööf steps down has instead thrown her support behind her colleague Daniel Bäckström, the party’s spokesperson on rural affairs. The party is set to vote in a new leader at a conference on February 2nd.

What’s next?

On Wednesday the Swedish parliament is set to vote on raising the minimum monthly salary for work permits from the current 13,000 kronor.

The proposal would raise the maintenance requirement for work permit applicants from outside the EU, the Nordic countries and Switzerland – and it looks likely to pass, as the three government parties, along with the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats are in favour of the move.

The proposal was put forward by the former Social Democrat government. The date of implementation is up to the government to decide, so it is not clear from what date a new salary threshold would be introduced.

You can read more about the proposal on The Local, here’s a link.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues after the Swedish election. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.