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What’s at stake in Sweden’s Sami elections?

The results of Sweden's Sami parliamentary elections are expected next week and land rights of the indigenous people are just one of the key issues in question.

What's at stake in Sweden's Sami elections?
The Sami flag; the results of the Sami Parliament elections are expected next week. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix / TT

On Sunday, many of the country’s Sami cast their votes in the Sami Parliament or Sámediggi (Sametinget in Swedish). The 9,220 Sami people included in the voting list could go to one of the 24 polling stations located around the country, everywhere between Gothenburg in the south to Karesuando in the far north.

The results are expected to be announced on May 25th.

“You feel like a Sami, that identity is strengthened when you step into the polling station,” Lars-Einar Hästner, who cast his vote at the newly established polling station in the Gothenburg, told local radio P4 Göteborg.

Who gets a vote?

The Sami are an indigenous people who inhabit Sápmi, an area comprising (northern) parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. There are an estimated 100,000 Sami people across those countries,  between 20,000 to 35,000 of them living in Sweden.

Blue areas of the map are the area known as Sápmi. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikicommons 

In order to register, voters needed to be aged over 18, consider themselves Sami, and have to speak or have spoken the Sami language. Voters can also register if their parents or grandparents speak or spoke Sami at home, or if they have a parent included in the voting list.

Of those on the voting register, approximately 45 per cent live in Norrbotten, 22 percent in Västerbotten, eight percent in Stockholm County and six percent in Jämtland County. The others are spread across the rest of the country. 

The turnout this year was good, with 2,135 people voting at their local polling station, compared to 1,964 in the last election in 2017.

Polling stations had to adapt to Covid-19, keeping entrances and exits separate to reduce crowding and supplying voters with face masks, hand sanitiser and plastic gloves. Fika, which is traditionally offered to those who come to cast their vote, had to be cancelled.

Indigenous rights

In 1977, the Swedish parliament first recognised the Sami as an indigenous people in Sweden.

Still, Sweden has faced international criticism for falling short when it comes to safeguarding the rights of the Sami people. The UN have raised the issue several times, recommending that Sweden increase efforts to strengthen support for the Sami language, improve protection for Sami land rights, and afford greater influence for the Sami people in decision-making processes that directly affect them.

Several countries, including Norway and Denmark, have also recommended that Sweden ratify the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. The 1989 convention emphasises land rights for indigenous peoples and has been ratified by almost all countries with indigenous peoples, but not by Sweden.

Sami Parliament in 2004. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The Sami Parliament

The Sámediggi in Sweden was inaugurated in 1993,and has its main office in Kiruna, with local offices in Jokkmokk, Tärnaby and Östersund. The 31 members of the Sami Parliament Plenary Assembly are appointed through general elections every fourth year.

As a relatively small minority the Sami, have difficulty gaining representation in Sweden’s regular democratic institutions both at a national and local level. There is no Sami representation in the Swedish parliament and only a handful of Sami are local politicians in Swedish municipalities.

The Sami Parliament is, according to its website, “a blend of a popularly elected parliament and a state administrative agency with limited and legally regulated tasks”, meaning that it receives its mandate from the Swedish government rather than being able to overrule decisions by the parliament or municipal councils for example. 

But the Sami Parliament can still pursue political issues and contribute to changes at the national level.

Its primary task is “to monitor issues concerning the Sami culture in Sweden.”

This includes managing the distribution of state grants and funds from the Sami Foundation (Samefonden) for Sami culture and Sami organizations, the administration for reindeer husbandry, the appointment of the board for the Sami school (Sameskolan) and defining the objectives for the preservation of the Sami language(s).

The Sami Parliament in 2001. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Language and land on the agenda

Throughout primary school, 19-year-old Elin Nejne had to fight to learn Sami, she told the TT newswire. The language issue is one of the most important reasons why she was voting in last weekend’s Sami parliamentary elections. “Many of us are committed to taking back our language”, she said. “To be able to go to the polls feels great.”

“My grandfather is my Sami connection and he belongs to the generation that was deprived of the language. The language requirement [to vote] is difficult for many in my generation who have not spoken Sami at home. I think that should be reformulated.

“When I was younger, I did not even realise that the Sami Parliament existed. Now it feels like it is becoming more and more visible, that everyone can be reached by information, which makes more people feel that it is important to apply to vote,” she said.

But the crucial question dividing the parties into two blocks is whether all Sami should have the right to use the land and water in their home areas.

The political dividing line is above all between those who believe that the Sami villages (samebyar) should control hunting, fishing and reindeer husbandry, and those who believe that all Sami should have the right to take part in hunting and fishing, with reduced influence for the Sami villages. These are not villages in the traditional sense, but financial and administrative unions representing Sami people in different regions.

A total of eight parties were registered for the 2021 election. According to the final debate organised by Sami Radio, whether people who are part of Sami villages should have the exclusive rights to fishing and hunting, just two out of the eight parties said yes. 

In the last election, the Hunting and Fishing Sami party (which is in favour of extended hunting and fishing rights) received the most votes, but failed to form a majority in the Sami Parliament.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Five of Sweden’s political parties planned to evade party financing laws

Five of the eight political parties in the Swedish parliament discussed evading party financing laws with a businessman secretly working with broadcaster TV4.

Five of Sweden's political parties planned to evade party financing laws

“There’s every reason to demand moral and political responsibility,” political scientist Jonas Hinnfors said of how Sweden’s society should react to the investigation’s findings. “It’s a threat to democracy.”

The new law on donations to political parties which came into force in 201  dictates that parties must declare all donations received from private individuals or businesses. Donators can remain anonymous, byt only as long as their donation does not exceed 24,150 kronor (€2,281). Larger donations must be declared along with the name of the donor.

The Kalla Fakta team which produced the documentary hired two businessmen to call each parliamentary party and ask how they could donate half a million kronor, while staying anonymous. The conversations were recorded and meetings filmed with a hidden camera.

Three parties – the Centre Party, the Left Party and the Green Party – said that it wasn’t possible for the donor to remain anonymous. 

But the other five parties – the Social Democrats, the Moderates, the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals – suggested different ways of getting around the requirements.

Christian Democrat press secretary Peter Kullgren suggested splitting up donations and donating to individual candidates so that each donation remained under the legal limit.

Another method, proposed by Sweden Democrat head of finance Lena-Karin Lifvenhjelm, consisted of giving the money to another individual who would donate it under their name instead.

Magdalena Agrell, the Social Democrat’s head of finance, discussed finding someone else to act as a front in recorded telephone conversations.

The chairman and communications chief of the Social Democrat’s youth organisation, Diyar Cicek and Youbert Aziz, suggested that the businessman instead create a foundation to donate the money.

The Moderate Party’s ombudsman Patrik Haggren proposed that donations could be sent from different members of the businessman’s family in order to remain anonymous.

Lisa Flinth, who is responsible for leadership support in the Liberal Party, also proposed this method, providing the contact details of a middleman, the consultant Svend Dahl.

Dahl first proposed that his company send an invoice of half a million kronor to the businessman, but later suggested that the money be transferred to him to donate to the Liberals in his name, thereby avoiding having to pay tax.

“It’s important you keep yourself anonymous,” Dahl said in Kalla Fakta‘s recordings of conversations with the undercover businessman.

Dahl is a political scientist and has previously been head of media organisation Liberala Nyhetsbyrån.

Flinth was well aware of the fact that the method undermines the aim of the law, telling the businessman in a telephone conversation that it was very important that nothing could be traced back to the party.

“It could have serious consequences,” she said. “We don’t really have any margins when it comes to credibility.”

“If there was an article about this in the middle of a heated election campaign and we miss the threshold for getting in to parliament, I would never forgive myself,” she said.

Political scientist Jonas Hinnfors, who commented on the conversation for the Kalla Fakta team, said he was shocked after hearing it.

“They know what the point of the new legislation is,” he told Kalla Fakta. “Going against that is political dynamite.”

In a written comment on their website, the Liberals’ vice-party secretary Gustav Georgson stated that the party would not use Dahl’s consulting services again and that it “takes the statements made by Kalla Fakta seriously and will act forcefully to avoid similar situations happening again.”

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