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READER QUESTIONS

Reader Question: Is there a Swedish equivalent of writing to your senator or MP?

A reader got in touch to ask whether there is a Swedish equivalent of writing to your senator or MP to protest, voice a political opinion, or raise a local issue. Here's how it works in Sweden.

Reader Question: Is there a Swedish equivalent of writing to your senator or MP?
The voting panel in the Swedish Riksdag parliament lights up when MPs vote for and against the government's budget in 2018. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Sveriges riksdag.

People in Sweden do send letters to members of the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, but it doesn’t work in quite the same way as it does in the UK or the US.

Human rights organisations, pressure groups, and concerned individuals will frequently send individual letters or mount letter-writing campaigns to try to influence MPs on issues that concern them.

Sweden is a transparent society, so it is easy to obtain the contact details of MPs in the parliament. You can find emails for all 349 MPs here, or if you prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, you can simply pop your letter in an envelope and send it, with the MPs name at the top, to this address:

Sveriges riksdag,

100 12 Stockholm. 

For the human rights group Amnesty, for instance, writing letters to politicians is one of the main strategies. 

The big difference between writing to your MP in Sweden, and writing to an MP, Congressman, or Senator in the UK or the US, of course, is that MPs in Sweden do not represent a constituency in the same way. 

The UK has 650 constituencies, each with its own MP. Sweden, on the other hand, has 29, with the smallest, Gotland, having two MPs, and the largest, Stockholm, having 43. You can see a map of Sweden’s constituencies here

When citizens vote in general elections, they vote for a political party first, and only then vote for which of the party’s candidates they would most like to represent them, in so-called “personal preference voting”. 

The election authority then distributes the seats in each constituency to each party based on what share of the vote they got in that constituency. A further 39 adjustment seats, which are not tied to a constituency, are then distributed to make sure the number of MPs each party has in parliament reflects their share of the vote at a national level. 

READ ALSO: What are The Local’s reader questions? 

For the purposes of letter-writing, the important difference is that you do not have an MP in Sweden, but several, normally representing rival political parties. 

According to David Karlsson, a professor at Gothenburg University, who has written a paper on letters sent to MPs, most Swedes will have no idea who the MPs are who represent their constituency. 

“It’s very obvious and well-known in Britain who the MP is,” he points out. “Knowledge of who the local MP is in Sweden is very very low, very few people could name the MP elected from their constituency.” 

Another big difference is that MPs in Sweden tend to focus their attention more at the national level, and not to see their primary role as representing the interests of their local constituencies. They don’t hold “surgeries” in their local constituencies in the same way that MPs do in the UK, and are less likely to get involved in helping individual citizens solve local problems.  

Partly this is because what they need to do to get reelected is to retain the support of their local political party organisation, rather than the support of voters. Partly, its because MPs have very little power to influence their local municipalities and regions. 

“There is a big difference in how much [MPs in Sweden] can do. If people want help in their private, local cases, there is very little executive power in being an MP,” Karlsson says.  

As a result, people in Sweden are more likely to write letters to local municipal councillors or regional representatives, rather than to their MPs if they want help with personal problems and local issues. 

When Amnesty writes letters to MPs, they usually decide which MP to write to based on whether they are actively engaged in the issue at hand, or whether they sit on a certain committee, rather than on which constituency they represent. 

When Amnesty is campaigning on a local issue, however, they do sometimes still write letters to MPs based on the constituency where the issue is taking place. 

For instance, when a Romanian citizen living in Gävleborg was hit with heavy medical bills from the regional health authority because she had a baby in a local hospital without the required paperwork, Amnesty sent letters to MPs representing the constituency. 

Member comments

  1. Good article. As many Swedes agree this is a major flaw in the country’s constitutional relationships. It means politicians are more interested in their Party and not the people. It also means there is no federal oversight, control or audit over the expenditure of taxpayers’ money at the regional or local government level where the bulk (approx 70% though some estimates put this much higher) of public expenditure takes place. Talk to anyone employed in a Swedish municipality or county and you will be told that budgetary, fiscal and procurement rules are flouted on a regular basis. My question is why there is not a political movement calling for a relook at Sweden’s constitution? Most of my Swedish friends would support such a review but no political party seems to.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure there’s a way of having a system of proportional representation where MPs still retain close links to constituencies. I’m sure there are systems that would do better than the Swedish one, however.

  2. Can non-citizens also write to MPs and other representatives as well for assistance with personal or local issues? And how do we get in contact with the local government in our respective municipalities or regions? Just curious.

  3. Watching Staffan Floren Sandberg’s excellent SVT1report on the poor management Sweden’s health care yesterday certainly confirmed the need for a complete overhaul of the current decentralised system of government. His findings doubtless apply in equal measure to education, elder care and all other areas where regions and municipalities are in control. Of course the same can be said for my country, Britain, in many instances but at least central government responsibilty for audit and holding local/regional government to account for public expenditure exists.
    One stand out revelation of Sandberg’s report was that most Swedes don’t realise that health care is in the hands of their regional politicians. They think it is the responsibilty of the federal goverment. Horryfying as that is for Sweden’s democracy at least it means that a constitutional amendment to move responsibilty back to the central government wouldn’t meet much resistance – except for the well paid politicians in the “Regions”.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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