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EXPLAINED: Who are Sweden’s party leaders and what do they want?

EXPLAINED: Who are Sweden's party leaders and what do they want?
Four of the leaders of Sweden's eight parties. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
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.

Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterna)

Who: Stefan Löfven

Age: 63

Current role: Prime Minister of Sweden since 2014


Photo: Amir Nabizadeh/TT

Background: Formerly the head of one of the country’s most powerful unions, IF Metall, Stefan Löfven was persuaded to stand for leadership following then-record-low poll ratings for the Social Democrats in 2012 and led the party to victory in the parliamentary elections two years later. He started his career as a welder after growing up with an adoptive family in Örnsköldsvik, a small industrial town in northern Sweden.

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Löfven’s time in office hasn’t been easy: it started with him calling a snap election after his party’s budget was blocked in parliament in late 2014, and he was tasked with guiding Sweden’s response to the record 163,000 people who sought asylum in the country in 2015 at the peak of the refugee crisis. His government responded by introducing temporary border controls and ID checks at southern borders, reducing the number of asylum seekers coming to the country dramatically.

In July 2017 a scandal developed when it emerged that IT workers in foreign countries without the correct security clearance had access to Swedish Transport Agency data, and the result was an opposition no-confidence motion against three of Löfven’s ministers.

After the 2018 election in which his party received its worst result in over a century, it took four months and several rounds of party talks before Löfven was able to put together a government. To do that, he had to get support from the Centre and Liberal parties, formerly part of the centre-right opposition bloc.

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 during Löfven’s tenure 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 saw relations with Saudi Arabia grow frosty in 2015 meanwhile, resulting in Sweden cancelling a military cooperation agreement with the country.

Löfven’s government has also been criticised for their handling of the corona 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. However, in the latest polls the support for the Social Democrats remains relatively unchanged, falling only slightly.

Green Party (Miljöpartiet)

Who: Märta Stenevi and Per Bolund

Age: 45 and 49

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.

Per Bolund is her co-spokesperson since January 2020, also in the roles of Minister for Housing and Deputy Finance Minister. 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.

Moderate Party (Moderaterna)

Who: Ulf Kristersson

Age: 57

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.

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. But bloc politics means that the Moderates still have more power as part of an alliance with the Christian Democrats – even after the Centre and Liberal parties essentially broke up the former centre-right alliance by agreeing to give the centre-left government their passive support.

The split on the right-wing happened after the September 2018 election. Kristersson attempted to form a government after Löfven failed at his first attempt, but the Centre and Liberal parties refused to be part of a government that relied on passive support from the far-right Sweden Democrats.

Since then, the party has sometimes sided with the Sweden Democrats against its former allies, including on some migration issues.

Centre Party (Centerpartiet)

Who: Annie Lööf

Age: 37

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 criticizing 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.

The Liberals (Liberalerna)

Who: Nyamko Sabuni

Age: 52

Current role: Party leader


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Background: After a stint as an MP between 2002 and 2006, Sabuni was Minister for Integration and Gender Equality in the Reinfeldt government, Sweden’s first African-born minister (she was born in Burundi and came to Sweden aged 12), and from 2010 to 2013 was also Deputy Minister for Education.

She became leader of the Liberals following the 2018 election, in which the party’s share of the vote remained roughly the same as the previous election at just over 6 percent.

Party: The Liberal Party’s core supporters are middle-class voters. The party is focused on improving education, being open-but-tough on immigration, joining Nato and nuclear expansion. It also promotes what it calls “feminism without socialism”, aiming to secure equal opportunities by investing in work sectors dominated by women and encouraging men to share childcare responsibilities.

It used to be called Folkpartiet (“the people’s party”) up until 2015, when it changed its name to Liberalerna. Approval ratings fell below the Riksdag watermark in April 2015, and despite an improvement since then, they have not been able to capitalise on the trouble coalition partners the Moderates have experienced in the same way the Centre Party have.

The Liberal Party joined the Centre Party in ditching their former Alliance partners 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.

In May 2021, Statistics Sweden published poll results showing that had there been an election today, The Liberals would receive only 2.8 percent of the votes, well below the 4 percent needed to remain in parliament.

Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna)

Who: Ebba Busch

Age: 34

Current role: Party Leader


Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Background: A graduate in Peace and Conflict Studies at 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 has faced pressure of late 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 Busch has been accused of slander. The two legal procedures have 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.

Party: The Christian Democrats have tried to move away from their religious roots and build wider support, but the party is struggling 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 a hard-line stance on extremism.

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 even opened talks with the Sweden Democrats following the split in the Alliance. They have expressed interest in forming a coalition government with the Moderates and The Sweden Democrats.

Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna)

Who: Jimmie Åkesson

Age: 41

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 a (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 following 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 May, the four parties submitted a joint migration policy to the parliament to oppose the one proposed by the government.

Left Party (Vänsterpartiet)

Who: Nooshi Dadgostar

Age: 35

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 questions including housing. She has previously also been the feminist spokesperson for The Left Party.

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 June 2021, the Left Party issued an ultimatum to the Social Democrats regarding their bill to introduce market rents for newbuilds. Dadgostar said that if the bill was not scrapped within 48 hours, they would support a vote of no confidence.


Member comments

  1. 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.

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

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