Foreign-born people remain under-represented in Swedish parliament

The proportion of Swedish MPs with a foreign background has not risen since the last mandate period, and is significantly lower than the corresponding proportion of the general population, a new study reveals.

Foreign-born people remain under-represented in Swedish parliament
The Riksdagshuset, or Swedish House of Parliament, in Stockholm. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Just over one in ten (11.5 percent) of Swedish members of parliament have a foreign background, according to the survey carried out by Sveriges Radio Ekot, compared to 24 percent of the Swedish population as a whole.

The survey defined 'foreign background’ as either someone who themselves was born abroad, or who was born in Sweden to two foreign-born parents.

“You put your own experience into politics, so from that perspective it's important to have good representation,” Social Democrat MP Serkan Köse told The Local. Köse was born in Turkey and moved to Sweden as a ten-year-old with his mother and siblings.

“I think we have good representation in my party. We have different kinds of knowledge and backgrounds: age, gender, people from different areas of Sweden,” he said. “It's about having good experience and also different kinds of cultures and backgrounds completing each other.”

As for how Köse's own background has influenced his work and focus as a politician, he said: “It differs from day to day. I always put my experiences and perspective into debates about what we call 'multicultural' questions in Swedish society. In the labour market commission we talk about the situation for people with non-Swedish background and we want to do more for this group, so I put in my own perspective. I try my best to show how I see this from my multicultural perspective.”

There were large differences between the eight parties that are represented in Swedish parliament, with the highest proportion of Swedes with a foreign background (32 percent) in the Left Party compared to just three percent of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.

Among the Liberals, 20 percent of MPs had a foreign background, compared to 14.3 percent of the Moderate Party, 12.5 percent of the Green Party, 10 percent of the Social Democrats, 6.5 percent of the Centre Party, and 4.6 percent of the Christian Democrats.

Previous research into representation of foreign-born Swedes in municipal politics has suggested that people in this group are particularly poorly represented at higher levels of politics. There did not seem to be a correlation with candidates' age, gender, or level of education, but those who had lived in Sweden for more than 20 years were more likely to reach higher-level positions.

Foreign-born residents are also less likely to vote in elections than native-born Swedes, with the turnout rate at 72 percent among this group compared to 90 percent among native Swedes in the 2014 elections (the corresponding statistics for the 2018 election have not yet been released).

As The Local reported earlier this year, Swedish organizations led several initiatives to encourage democratic participation among the country’s foreign-born Swedes ahead of the September election.

LONG READ: How Sweden hopes to get its foreign residents voting

Member comments

  1. why is it racist to specify a person’s foreign background when it comes to crime statistics but not to do it when it comes to politics? Aren’t those double standards?

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Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

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