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Swedish vocabulary: How to talk about the political crisis like a Swede

Keeping up with the twists and turns over the recent events in Swedish politics is a challenge, let alone navigating it in a foreign language. We've collected the key Swedish words and phrases you need to hold your own when the conversation turns to politics.

Swedish vocabulary: How to talk about the political crisis like a Swede
'Vad är det som händer?' (What's going on) is a starting point. Photo: Lars Schröder/TT

What’s happening?

There’s a lot going on in Swedish politik (politics, but also ‘policy’) at the moment.

The regering (government) just lost a misstroendeförklaring (no-confidence vote) which saw a majority of the riksdag (parliament) vote to topple them. That’s created a regeringskris (government crisis).

There are two possibilities for what happens next: we could get a talmansrunda, which has no direct English translation but refers to talks between the talman (speaker of parliament) and partiledare (party leaders), or we could be heading for an extraval (snap election). The word for ‘election’ is val, which also means ‘choice’ and ‘whale’, just to make things extra confusing for Swedish learners.

The current crisis erupted over marknadshyror (market rents), a centre-right policy that the centre-left government reluctantly agreed to look into, but which was a step too far for the Left Party, on whose support the government relies. 

What next?

It depends if the statsminister (Prime Minister) chooses to go for an extraval or talmansrunda.

If it’s an extraval, it should take place in September and Swedish citizens over the age of 18 have rösträtt (right to vote) and will be able to rösta (vote). The most recent partisympatiundersökningar (party sympathy surveys) show that a right-wing government would be on track for a knapp majoritet (narrow majority) but it’s very, very close.

If it’s a talmansrunda, the talman will speak to the different partiledare and appoint one of them, who he thinks has a chance at forming a viable government, to sondera (this roughly means ‘to feel/sound out’ and in politics, it refers to chatting to the other leaders to see if they can gather enough support for a government).

Forming a viable government will require some parties to reach a kompromiss (compromise), since the Centre Party, for example, has ruled out samarbete (cooperation) with the Left but also with the far-right.

The parties

First there are the Socialdemokraterna (Social Democrats) and Miljöpartiet (Green Party), who have been running Sweden as a koalitionsregering (coalition government). 

They were able to come to power thanks to reaching an agreement with two former members of their opposition, the Centerpartiet (Centre Party) and Liberalerna (Liberals). The agreement where they agreed support in exchange for policy influence is called Januariavtalet (the January Deal), and that makes the Centre and Liberals stödpartier (support parties).

Also usually backing the government is Vänsterpartiet (the Left Party), although it has no formal agreement in place like the Centre and Liberals, so is technically part of the opposition — that’s why it pushed for a vote of no-confidence over one of the points in the Januariavtalet.

On the right side of the political spectrum, Moderaterna (the Moderates) and Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrats) were formerly part of a four-party coalition with the Centre and Liberals called Alliansen (the Alliance). These parties are often referred to as de borgerliga (the bourgeois – which doesn’t automatically have the same strong connotations in Swedish as in English).

Further to the right are Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), a party with roots in the far-right which runs on an anti-immigration platform.

Useful phrases

Vad finns det för alternativ nu? – What alternatives are there now?

Blir det ett extraval? – Will there be a snap election?

Till vems fördel blir ett extraval? – Who would benefit from a snap election?

Kommer Stefan Löfven kunna skapa en regering? – Will Stefan Löfven be able to form a government?

Varför är marknadshyror en så viktig fråga? – Why are market rents such an important issue?

Hur mycket inflytande kommer Vänsterpartiet/Centerpartiet få? – How much influence will the Left Party/Centre Party have?

Vad tror du kommer hända nu? – What do you think will happen next?

And if you find yourself in a political debate and not sure what to say next, you can never go wrong with a drawn out, non-committal njaaa (well…).

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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 journalists, a new investigation by broadcaster TV4 has found.

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.”