Five things to know about Sweden’s election

On Sunday Sweden is voting in what looks to be a tight election between the incumbent left-wing and an unprecedented alliance between the right and the far right. Here are five things to know about the election.

Five things to know about Sweden's election
(L-R) Marta Stenevi leader of the Green Party in Sweden, Nooshi Dadgostar, leader of the left party in Sweden, Annie Loof, leader of the Centre Party in Sweden, Swedish Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats Magdalena Andersson, Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party in Sweden, Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats party, Ebba Busch, leader of the Christian Democrats Party in Sweden and Johan Pehrson, leader of the Liberal People's Party. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND/AFP


For two centuries, Sweden’s policy was to stay out of military alliances. But public and political support for joining NATO soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading the country to apply for membership in mid-May along with neighbouring Finland.

Despite assurances that the countries would be welcomed into the alliance “with open arms,” they’ve faced intense opposition from Turkey, which accuses the Nordic countries of providing a safe haven for terrorist groups.

A deal was struck between the three countries in June, which included provisions on handling extraditions and sharing information.

All parties, except the Left and the Greens, back membership but the incoming government will need to manage the tense relations with Ankara, which has insisted it could still block the countries’ entry — which requires ratification by all North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states — if it feels Sweden and Finland do not deliver on their promises.

Greta effect?

Two weeks ahead of Sweden’s 2018 election, then 15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg began sitting outside Stockholm’s parliament building with her now-iconic “School Strike for Climate” sign.

Her protest urged politicians to bring Swedish emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

At first it garnered little attention, but soon sparked a global movement, leading Thunberg to travel the world to address — and often berate — world leaders.

Thunberg has spoken at the UN, been named a TIME person of the year, and even been tipped as a favourite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But heading into this year’s Swedish election, climate concerns have retreated. Voters are more concerned with law and order amid rising gang violence, and energy policy with soaring gas and electricity prices.

This is the first election where the young climate activist is eligible to vote. On Friday she lamented that “the climate crisis has been more or less ignored in this election campaign”.

Covid pandemic

Sweden’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has also been notably absent from the election campaign.The country made headlines when it refused to implement draconian measures as other countries around the world went into lockdown.

Despite a soaring death toll as the virus surged in elderly care homes, Swedish authorities opted to keep society relatively open, arguing that a lockdown would be more detrimental to public health than the virus.

Instead it introduced voluntary recommendations, and as the pandemic wore on, limits on public gatherings and opening hours at bars and restaurants. Face masks were only advised in some situations.

The country’s Covid toll of 1,901 deaths per million in early September was below the EU average of 2,529 per million, according to Our World in Data.

“Most people are happy with the strategy”, author and journalist Jens Liljestrand told AFP, explaining the lack of debate on the subject in the campaign.

The pandemic “hasn’t left any mark, it’s like a collective blackout”, he said.

Electoral system

Sweden’s single-chamber parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 seats and is the country’s supreme decision-making body.

A general election is held every four years, and to get into parliament parties must amass a minimum of four percent of votes.

In order of the number of seats, the current parties are the ruling centre-left Social Democrats, the conservative Moderate Party, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, the Centre Party, the Left Party, the
Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Green Party.

Following an election, the speaker nominates the prime ministerial candidate they believe is most likely to be supported by parliament, which is then voted on by MPs.

Under the Swedish system a candidate needs to be tolerated by parliament to be elected, meaning they can assume office as long as a majority does not vote against them.

While the Social Democrats held on to government power without interruption for four decades until the 1970s, today’s more fractured political landscape means governments have in recent decades needed to rely on alliances and coalitions to secure power. 

Schoolchildren to the polls

In Sweden, students over the age of 13 can cast ballots in a nationwide “school election” aimed at raising awareness about voting and politics.

Participating schools follow the real election campaign, with students voting in school for the actual parties in a simulation of the official election.

This year, 1,580 schools have signed up for the initiative, organised by the governmental Agency for Youth and Civil Society, and over half a million students are expected to cast ballots.

Students will even have their own election day rally where they will be able to watch their results tick in live on Monday, the day after the official vote.

In the previous school election in 2018, the country’s teenagers showed a preference for the conservative Moderates, which won 21.23 percent of their votes, followed by the centre-left Social Democrats with 19.53 percent and the far-right Sweden Democrats with 15.5 percent.

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Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.