All public power proceeds from the people. This is the foundation of the Swedish system of government. Everyone has the same rights and is free to scrutinise how politicians and public agencies exercise their power.
A parliamentary democracy
In Sweden, general elections are held every four years. Around 7 million people are entitled to vote and thereby influence which political party will represent them in the Swedish parliament (the Riksdag), county councils and municipalities.
People can also influence Swedish politics in other ways – by taking part in referendums, joining a political party or commenting on reports presented by the government.
The Swedish Constitution
The Swedish Constitution defines how Sweden is governed. It regulates the relationships between decision-making and executive power, and the basic rights and freedoms of citizens. Four fundamental laws make up the Constitution: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. The fundamental laws take precedence over all other statutes.
Among other things, the Instrument of Government guarantees citizens the right to obtain information freely, hold demonstrations, form political parties and practice their religion.
The Act of Succession regulates the right of members of the House of Bernadotte, the royal family, to accede to the Swedish throne.
The Freedom of the Press Act sets out the principle of public access to official documents relating to the work of the parliament, the government and public agencies. This law allows people to study official documents whenever they wish.
The Law on Freedom of Expression, which came into force in 1992, largely mirrors the Freedom of the Press Act, in regards to the prohibition of censorship, the freedom to communicate information and the right to anonymity.
The parliament – representing the people
The parliament makes the decisions and the government implements them. The government also submits proposals for new laws or law amendments to the parliament.
The parliament with its 349 members is Sweden’s primary representative forum. The entire parliament is chosen by direct elections based on suffrage for all Swedish citizens aged 18 or over who are, or previously have been, residents of Sweden.
General elections to the parliament are held on the second Sunday of September every four years. To serve in the parliament, a person has to be a Swedish citizen and aged 18 or more. Seats are distributed among the political parties in proportion to the votes cast for them across the country as a whole.
Four per cent required
There is one exception to the rule of full national proportionality: a party must receive at least 4 per cent of all votes in the election to gain representation in the parliament, a rule designed to prevent very small parties from getting in.
Appointing a prime minister
The parliament appoints a prime minister, who is tasked with forming a government. The prime minister personally chooses the ministers to make up the cabinet and also decides which ministers will be in charge of the various ministries. Together, the prime minister and the cabinet ministers form the government. The government governs the country but is accountable to the parliament.
The government at work
The government rules Sweden by implementing the decisions of the parliament and by formulating new laws or law amendments, on which the parliament decides.
The government is assisted in this task by the Government Offices and the Swedish government agencies (345 in total, as of 2018). The cabinet as a whole is responsible for all government decisions. Although many routine matters are in practice decided by individual ministers and only formally approved by the government, the principle of collective responsibility is reflected in all governmental work. As part of its official functions, the government:
- presents bills to the parliament
- implements parliament decisions
- allocates the funds appropriated by the parliament for expenditure on items in the budget
- represents Sweden in the EU
- enters into agreements with other states
- takes decisions in certain administrative areas not covered by other authorities
- directs the activities and operations of the executive branch.
Local, regional and EU government
Sweden has three levels of domestic government: national, regional and local. In addition, the European level has become increasingly important since Sweden joined the European Union (EU) in 1995.
The regional level
At the regional level, Sweden is divided into 20 counties. The county councils are responsible for overseeing tasks such as health care and are entitled to levy income taxes to cover their costs.
The local level
At the local level, Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities, each with an elected assembly or council. Municipalities are responsible for a broad range of facilities and services including housing, roads, water supply and waste water processing, schools, public welfare, elderly care and childcare. They are legally obliged to provide certain basic services. The municipalities are entitled to levy income taxes on individuals, and they also charge for various services.
The European level
On entering the European Union (EU) in 1995, Sweden also got a European level of government. Sweden takes part in the decision-making process when new common rules are drafted and approved, and the Swedish government represents Sweden in the European Council of Ministers, the EU’s principal decision-making body.
Social Democrat Stefan Löfven was appointed prime minister of Sweden after the 2014 general elections.
Photo: Janerik Henriksson /TT
History of Swedish elections
2014: A minority left-of-centre coalition takes over after the Alliance.
2010: The ruling centre-right Alliance beats the left-of-centre coalition, but fails to gain an outright majority.
2006: The non-socialist parties form a four-party coalition government called the Alliance.
2002 and 1998: The Social Democrats remain in office after both elections, but in order to implement their policies are forced to form a parliamentary alliance with the Left Party and the Green Party.
1994: The Social Democrats form a new minority government. Starting from this year, general elections are held every four years instead of three.
1991: A non-socialist minority government of the Moderates, Liberals, the Centre Party and Christian Democrats is formed.
1988 and 1985: The Social Democrats remain in power after both elections.
1982: The non-socialist parties lose their majority and a Social Democratic minority government is formed.
1979: The non-socialist parties retain their parliamentary majority, and a new three-party government is formed. In the spring of 1981, the Moderate Party leaves the government.
1976: The Social Democrats are defeated by a coalition consisting of the Centre Party, the Moderates and the Liberal Party.
1932–1976: The Social Democrats rule without interruption, except for a period of 109 days in 1936 when Sweden has an interim government.