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THE KEY PLAYERS: Who’s who in Swedish politics?

Sweden's political landscape was redrawn after the last election, and since then some key players have been replaced and allegiances shifted. Here's a look at who's who, and what they stand for.

THE KEY PLAYERS: Who's who in Swedish politics?
Party leaders meet for a TV debate on TV4 in June. Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterna)

Who: Magdalena Andersson

Age: 55

Current role: Prime Minister of Sweden since 2021

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Photo: Paul Wennerholm/TT

Background: Magdalena Andersson has held her position of Sweden’s finance minister since 2014, retaining the position through all three Löfven governments.

In terms of politics, she has been a member of the Social Democrats since 1983 when she joined the youth branch of the organisation as a 16-year-old, being elected chairperson of the Uppsala branch four years later.

Her engagement with the Social Democrats continued alongside studies at Stockholm School of Economics, where she was elected chairperson of the Social Democratic Student Association in 1991.

After her studies, she worked in the prime minister’s office between 1996 and 2004, first as a political advisor, later as director of planning.

This was followed by two years as state secretary in the Finance Department, two years as advisor to then-leader of the Social Democrats Mona Sahlin, and three years as senior director at the Swedish Tax Agency. In 2012 Stefan Löfven appointed her to the role of economic-political spokesperson of the Social Democrats, a role she held until she was elected to the Swedish parliament (and government) in 2014.

She took over from former party leader and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in November 2021, becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister.

Just hours after her election, Andersson handed in her resignation after a tense budget vote threw the government into crisis.

Less than a week later, she was re-elected as Sweden’s prime minister, this time leading a single-party Social Democrat government rather than a Social Democrat-Green coalition.

Under Andersson’s leadership, the party has taken a tougher stance on crime and immigration, with the party regularly mentioning “turning every stone to break segregation”.

The party has also arguably become more strategic and more focussed under Andersson, which appears to be paying off in the polls – in July 2022, polls put the Social Democrats on 31.7 percent of the vote, which is a slight dip since their peak of 32 percent in March 2022 – their highest figures in over six years.

To put this in to perspective, the Social Democrats were polling at 26 percent in October 2021, shortly before Andersson took over as leader.

Party: The Social Democrats are the oldest and largest party in Sweden and dominated the political landscape until the 1990s. The party promotes workers’ rights and built the modern Swedish welfare state, paid for by progressive taxation.

After a crushing defeat in 2006, the Social Democrats continued to lose votes in 2010, particularly from Sweden’s urban middle class. The party bounced back after Löfven took over as leader and returned to power in a coalition with the Green Party following the general election in September 2014, but in 2018 the centre-left bloc made up of the two ruling parties and the Left Party reduced its lead to just one seat. That wasn’t enough to govern without the Social Democrat-Green government needing to reach a deal with their former opposition.

Some of the party’s more controversial policies in recent years have been recognising Palestine which contributed to a deterioration in relations with Israel and implementing temporary border controls. Its push for a feminist foreign policy under Löfven also saw relations with Saudi Arabia grow frosty in 2015 meanwhile, resulting in Sweden cancelling a military cooperation agreement with the country.

The Social Democratic government was also criticised for their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. A report by parliament’s Committee on the Constitution in June 2021 found that the government had fallen short in their handling of the pandemic in a number of areas: testing and tracking, protecting elderly care homes from the spread, changing the laws to allow for restrictions too late, and the lack of a general strategy.

Green Party (Miljöpartiet)

Who: Märta Stenevi and Per Bolund

Age: 46 and 51

Current role: Joint Green Party spokespeople and ministers in Stefan Löfven’s government

Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Background: Märta Stenevi has a background in publishing, working in the industry for 15 years. She studied literature, film and publishing as well as business economics at Lund University. After starting her political career in the Malmö region in 2014, she took on the role as party secretary in 2019. Stenevi replaced Isabella Lövin as one of the spokespeople of the Green Party in 2021 after the party congress. In 2021 she also became the Equality and Housing Minister, focused on counteracting segregation, a role she held until the Greens left government in November 2021.

Per Bolund has been green party co-spokesperson since January 2020, also in the roles of Minister for Housing and Deputy Finance Minister until November 2021. He previously had roles in government, Stockholm’s municipal council, and in the 1990s as a research assistant in environmental strategy.

Party: The Greens first won seats in the Swedish parliament in 1988. The party is focused on fighting climate change and promotes policies designed to protect the planet for future generations.

They had hoped to become the third largest party in the September 2014 elections, but lost out to the nationalist Sweden Democrats. The Greens did, however, enter government for the first time in 2014, after forming a coalition with the Social Democrats, and stayed on in that coalition after the 2018 election, though their share of the vote fell from almost 7 percent to 4.4 – just barely over the four percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

Being part of the coalition hasn’t necessarily helped them gain support, particularly after the government made a deal with the centre-right Centre and Liberal parties in order to be able to govern in January 2019.

As well as clashing with the Social Democrats and opposition over environmental policies, from the expansion of Arlanda airport to the question of nuclear power, the other big question has been migration. As the Social Democrats have opened up slightly to the right-wing, the Green Party is firmly against proposals like a cap on the number of asylum seekers who can enter Sweden each year.

Since the 2018 election, The Greens have seen even lower support in the polls. In May 2021, Statistics Sweden published survey results showing that if an election took place today, The Greens would receive only 3.8 percent of the vote, below the 4 percent threshold needed to remain in parliament.

After stepping down from their role in government due to the right-wing opposition’s budget passing just a few hours after Magdalena Andersson’s election in November 2021, the Greens saw a further drop in support, with many, including parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlén, criticising them for risking “damaging trust” in Sweden’s political system.

It’s not clear whether the Greens will gain enough of the vote to return to parliament after September’s election with recent polls putting them on 3.5 percent of the vote in July 2022, jumping to 5.2 percent in August.

Moderate Party (Moderaterna)

Who: Ulf Kristersson

Age: 58

Current role: Party leader and de facto head of the opposition

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Background: Ulf Kristersson took over as leader of the Moderates after Anna Kinberg Batra was ousted by the conservative party in September 2017 following a dip in the polls after the party broke a Swedish taboo by softening the stance towards the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.

The dad of three and former finance spokesperson of the Moderates in opposition was Minister of Social Security 2010-2014 in former leader Fredrik Reinfeldt’s popular centre-right coalition government.

Kristersson has been accused of not being clear about the extent to which he is prepared to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats. Since the 2018 election and resulting split in the right-of-centre Alliance, he has opened up more and more to the far-right party. In 2021, he said that he is open to cooperating with the Sweden Democrats on certain questions but does not want to form a government with them. He would rather form a government with the Christian Democrats.

In a speech at Almedalen in 2022, he went as far as to praise the Sweden Democrats, stating that “no other party has stood up like the Sweden Democrats have for the fact that we can’t increase migration if we want a chance to succeed with integration”. 

Party: The Moderates’ traditional focus has been on law and order issues, job creation and cutting taxes.

The Sweden Democrats have at times overtaken the Moderates in the opinion polls as Sweden’s biggest opposition party. In a poll released in August 2022, less than a month before the September 11th election, the Moderates were polling neck-and-neck with the Sweden Democrats at 18.6 percent.

As recently as 2018, the Centre and Liberal parties refused to be part of a government that relied on passive support from the far-right Sweden Democrats, resulting in Kristersson’s attempt to form a government failing. Now, the Centre still refuse to work with the Sweden Democrats, but with the Liberals, Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats on his side, Kristersson could be able to form a government if he wins in September.

Centre Party (Centerpartiet)

Who: Annie Lööf

Age: 39

Current role: Party leader

Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Background: Annie Lööf became MP for Jönköping County in southern Sweden when she was just 23 years old and was selected to become leader of the party in 2011. She has a degree in law and lives in Nacka, Stockholm.

A former Minister for Enterprise in the Fredrik Reinfeldt-led Alliance government, since returning from a six-month parental leave break in 2016 Lööf experienced a surge in popularity, particularly among centre-right voters with an international and progressive mindset. After the 2018 election, she was tasked with forming a government after neither Stefan Löfven nor Ulf Kristersson were successful in their first attempt. However she was unable to find support among the larger parties.

Party: The Centre Party has rural roots, emerging from Sweden’s Farmers’ League, which was set up more than one hundred years ago, and while agricultural and environmental issues remain key concerns alongside allowing local communities to make their own decisions, the party has tried to attract urban voters more recently by promising help for small businesses and criticising tough work permit rules for foreigners.

They won 8.6 percent in the 2018 election, their best result since 1998, possibly due to a clearer distancing from the polarising Sweden Democrats than the Moderates, and Lööf’s popularity. But the centre-right bloc still failed to get enough votes to govern, partly due to Sweden Democrat gains. As a result, the Centre Party ended up entering an agreement with the Social Democrat-Green government, allowing them to govern in exchange for significant influence over certain policy points.

In the run-up to the 2022 election, the Centre have differentiated themselves from the other parties on the right, by refusing to co-operate with the Sweden Democrats. They have pledged to support a Social Democrat government if Andersson is successful in September, although differences of opinion between the Centre and the Left parties could cause issues further down the line.

In a poll one month before the 2022 election, the Centre were polling on a comfortable 6.8 percent of the vote, putting them well over the 4 percent parliamentary threshold.

The Liberals (Liberalerna)

Who: Johan Pehrsson

Age: 54

Current role: Party leader

Liberal party leader Johan Pehrson. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Background: Originally from Örebro, Pehrson was a Liberal MP between 1998 and 2015, and again from 2018 to present. He has a law degree from Uppsala University and took over leadership of the party from former leader Nyamko Sabuni in April 2022.

His leadership and election campaign has been characterised by tongue-in-cheek posters and adverts, including images of him wearing clothing popular in the 1980s, with taglines such as “The Liberals have been campaigning for Sweden to join Nato since this tie was modern”.

During the summer, the Liberals also handed out suncream at beaches in Sweden with the slogan “don’t turn red in summer, use suncream”, a reference to the Social Democrats’ party colour.

Party: The Liberals have in the 2022 election campaign referred to their party as kunskapspartiet or “the party of knowledge”, with education and schools a key election issue. Other issues important for the Liberals are immigration and integration – where they aim to be open-but-tough – joining Nato, and nuclear expansion.

Their core supporters are middle-class voters.

The Liberal Party used to be called Folkpartiet (“the people’s party”) until 2015, when it changed its name to Liberalerna (The Liberals). Approval ratings fell below the Riksdag watermark in April 2015, and have only recently started to see an increase since Pehrson took over in April 2022. In the three months between April and August 2022, the Liberals jumped from 2.1 percent to 5.1 percent, giving them a good chance of returning to parliament after September.

The Liberal Party previously joined the Centre Party in ditching their former Alliance partners the Moderates and the Christian Democrats, to offer the government passive support in exchange for policy influence in the so-called January Agreement of 2019.

The Liberal party has recently faced new challenges. In March 2021, The Liberals announced that they would seek to form a government with the right-wing parties after the next election in 2022 and would be open to collaborating with the Sweden Democrats, a decision met with heavy scrutiny including from their own youth party.

Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna)

Who: Ebba Busch

Age: 35

Current role: Party Leader

Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Background: A graduate in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University, Ebba Busch grew up in the nearby town of Gunsta and has been active in the Christian Democrats since 2006.

She was working as councillor in student city Uppsala when she was chosen to take over as party head from Göran Hägglund in April 2015. Busch has dual Norwegian citizenship through her father, and says she was inspired to enter politics following her mother’s bad experience with the Social Insurance Agency after going on sick leave for stress.

Busch faced pressure in recent years due to a legal twist with pensioner Esbjörn Bolin, 83. Bolin sold his house to Busch in August 2020 but regretted the sale the day after signing the contract. Busch threatened court action if the sale was not fulfilled and in November, legal action was filed. Busch also wrote a Facebook post about the situation for which she was accused of slander.

The two legal procedures received large media attention and in a poll by DN/Ipsos in February 2021, the public’s faith in Busch had fallen from 34 to 22 percent, the largest fall a party leader has even seen in two consecutive polls.

However, since then, Busch’s support has improved, with polls in July 2022 putting her at 40 percent, joint-third with Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, behind Ulf Kristersson and Magdalena Andersson.

Party: The Christian Democrats have tried to move away from their religious roots and build wider support, but the party has struggled to gain popularity. Its increasingly tough stance on immigration has also cost it some of its supporters who back traditionally Christian values.

Areas their policies focus on include welfare for the elderly and healthcare (specifically maternity healthcare). 

The party only just reached the four-percent threshold needed to secure seats in the Swedish parliament in the 2014 election, but increased that to over 6 percent in 2018. The party has sided with the Moderates and opened talks with the Sweden Democrats following the split in the Alliance. They have expressed interest in forming a coalition government with the Moderates, The Sweden Democrats and the Liberals.

In August 2022, they were polling at 6.3 percent.

Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna)

Who: Jimmie Åkesson

Age: 43

Current role: Party leader

Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Background: An early entrant into politics, Jimmie Åkesson began his career as a city councillor in his hometown, Sölvesborg, in southern Sweden, after joining the party’s youth wing as a teenager.

After leading the Sweden Democrats to an (at the time) record 12.9 percent of the vote in the September 2014 election, he took a break due to chronic fatigue before returning in 2015.

Party: The nationalist Sweden Democrats were founded in 1988, evolving from far-right organisations with neo-Nazi roots. In recent years the party has worked to tone down its image as a racist and extremist group. However, cutting immigration remains the party’s main goal and it does not support dual nationality, with the exception of Nordic citizens.

Sweden’s third biggest party since the 2014 election, the Sweden Democrats had the chance to be kingmakers in parliament and sparked a government crisis shortly after the vote when they helped block the centre-left coalition’s budget proposal. An unprecedented deal between the Social Democrat-Green government and the centre-right opposition ended the crisis and froze Åkesson’s party out for the time being.

In 2018, they increased their share of the vote to 17.5 percent, although this was not as high as the party had hoped for and several opinion polls had forecast. Still, it prevented either of the two traditional blocs from gaining a majority, and was a key reason why it took four months to form a government. The party was open to giving a Moderate-led government passive support, but this was prevented from becoming a reality by the Centre and Liberal parties, who opted to leave the right-wing Alliance rather than support a government that relied on support from the Sweden Democrats.

The party has received increasing cooperation from the parties on the right since 2018, and in 2021, the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals have all opened the door to cooperation. In November 2021, the four opposition parties passed their budget – the first in Swedish history co-authored by the Sweden Democrats – forcing the left-wing government to rule on a right-wing budget.

Left Party (Vänsterpartiet)

Who: Nooshi Dadgostar

Age: 37

Current role: Party leader

Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Background: Nooshi Dadgostar took over the position of party leader in October 2020 after Jonas Sjöstedt, who had held the position since 2012. From Gothenburg, Dadgostar now lives in Stockholm. She became active in The Left Party’s youth party in 1999 and was elected a member of the parliament in 2014. During her time as an MP, Dadgostar has worked on issues such as housing and higher pensions. She has previously also been the feminist spokesperson for The Left Party.

Since becoming the party’s leader, Dadgostar has proven herself to be a tough negotiator, toppling Sweden’s then-Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in a no-confidence vote just seven months after she was appointed, following a disagreement over proposals to change Sweden’s rental laws.

Löfven was re-elected, but not before the proposal in question was scrapped, giving the Left Party a jump in the polls.

She employed the same tactic in 2021, when Magdalena Andersson was on the cusp of becoming Sweden’s first female prime minister, with the Left Party refusing to back Andersson’s candidacy until she agreed to more generous pensions.

Her tactic paid off again – the Left Party backed Andersson, but only after it had secured the pension reform it wanted.

Party: As its name suggests, the Left Party is the most left-wing group in the Swedish parliament. It has a long history and described itself as communist until the 1990s. The party is against the privatisation of public companies and supports higher taxes to fund Sweden’s welfare state.

The Left Party has never served in government but usually offers support to Social Democrat governments whenever they are in power, although they also often criticise the centre-left on issues they don’t see eye to eye on.

In the 2018 election, they netted 8 percent of the vote, but were not part of the four-party government deal due to the distance between their position and that of the Centre and Liberal parties, who required the Left Party’s explicit exclusion from influence in the deal.

The party at first said it would not support the government, but after reassurance that it would not be totally excluded from issues not covered by the lengthy January deal, the Left Party abstained, giving Löfven’s government the support needed to govern.

In August 2022, the party were polling at 7.2 percent.

This article was originally written in July 2020 and updated in August 2022.

Member comments

  1. To the author of the article, would it be possible to specify which European party each party falls into?

  2. Look to the US to see what happens with unrestrained capitalism, homelessness, segregation, racial inequity. Eventually it leads to low wages, social unrest and violent hate groups. Next there will be screams for unrestrained gun ownership and you’ll have weapons of war like here in the US. We’ve had almost 400 mass shootings this year already. Yes, lack of affordable housing is a destructive weed that will grow wild. Who have you elected, Putin? Sounds like someone wants to destroy you. People who have nothing to lose act like they have nothing to lose. There should not be be massive profits in everything, and especially basic needs such as safe and affordable housing. Each year Scandinavia is rated as having the highest quality of life because there is a quality of life. Maslow hierarchy of needs outlines what a successful society needs to be strong and resilient, and basic need is housing. A word of warning from someone who cares, don’t create a massive social fissure that spawns far worse problems.

  3. Great article, concise but very informative. As someone who had no previous knowledge about Swedish politics, I feel I have the necessary bare minimum knowledge to appreciate it now.

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Sweden’s right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The four parties backing Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Sunday announced that they had agreed to keep the current Speaker, Andreas Norlén in place, when the role is put to a vote as parliament opens on Monday.

Sweden's right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The parties won a three-seat majority over the bloc led by the incumbent Social Democrats in Sweden’s general election on September 11th, and are currently in the middle of negotiating how they will form Sweden’s next government. 

Sweden’s parliament meets at 11am for the official installation of the 349 MPs for this mandate period. The votes for the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers are the first item on the agenda, after which the parties each select their parliamentary leaders and then vote on who should chair each of the parliamentary committees. 

READ ALSO: What happens next as parliament reopens? 

In a joint press release announcing the decision, the parties also agreed that the Sweden Democrats would be given eight of the 16 chairmanships the bloc will have of parliamentary committees in the next parliament, and that MPs for all four parties would back Julia Kronlid, the Sweden Democrats’ Second Deputy Leader, as the second deputy Speaker, serving under Norlén. 

In the press release, the parties said that Norlén had over the last four years shown that he has “the necessary personal qualities and qualifications which the role requires”. 

The decision to retain Norlén, who presided over the 134 days of talks and parliamentary votes that led to the January Agreement in 2019, was praised by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson. 

Norlén, she said in a statement, had “managed his responsibilities well over the past four years and been a good representative of Sweden’s Riksdag.” 

The decision to appoint Kronlid was opposed by both the Left Party and the Green Party, who said that she supported tightening abortion legislation, and did not believe in evolution.

The Green Party’s joint leader Märta Stenevi said that her party “did not have confidence in Julia Kronlid”, pointing to an interview she gave in 2014 when she said she did not believe that humans were descended from apes.

The party has proposed its finance spokesperson Janine Alm Ericson as a rival candidate. 

The Left Party said it was planning to vote for the Centre Party’s candidate for the post second deputy Speaker in the hope of blocking Kronlid as a candidate.