What’s next for Sweden? Why today is crucial for the country’s political future

Sweden's new parliament will meet for the first time today to elect a new speaker. Here's why that matters and what you need to know.

What's next for Sweden? Why today is crucial for the country's political future
Incumbent Prime Minister Stefan Löfven talks to his opposition rivals during one parliament session. Photo: Henrik Mongomery/TT

What is the Riksdag?

Sweden's parliament – the Riksdag – consists of 349 members who make the country's laws.

According to the constitution all public power stems from the people and the Riksdag is the people's main representatives. Those eligible to vote in the national election – Swedish citizens over the age of 18 who are or have been registered in Sweden – are also allowed to stand for election.

How old is Sweden's parliament?

Older than both democracy and the right to vote, in fact.

Even back in the Middle Ages, kings would call representatives of powerful interests in the kingdom to formal diets. Such a meeting at Arboga in 1435 is often considered the first Riksdag. A century later, King Gustav Vasa (1523-1560) would assemble the four estates – nobility, clergymen, burghers and peasants – and in the 17th century the Riksdag became a more permanent function of society. The 1809 constitution abolished absolute royal rule and stated that power should be shared between King and Riksdag.

How do you get elected?

Sweden primarily votes for parties, not people. But if you really want to vote for a particular person, you can do so if they have given their consent to represent a party. In most cases this means that the party has ranked a list of names on their voting ballot and if you want to give someone further down the list an extra boost and chance to get into parliament you can tick their name on the list.

What does the Riksdag do?

The 349 MPs split themselves up into various committees which act like a kind of mini version of the larger Riksdag. Each committee has 17 MPs who manage areas such as culture, taxation, defence and education. The committees are in charge of much of the day-to-day work.

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Sweden's next government

Stefan Löfven, Social Democrat, and Ulf Kristersson, Moderate, debate in front of 2014-2018 speaker Urban Ahlin. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

How is the government appointed?

The Riksdag votes for a prime minister candidate, who forms the government. If a party has its own parliamentary majority it is a straightforward process: the party votes for its own leader as prime minister and that's that. But in all other situations, the parties have to compromise and work together. The more parties in parliament, the more cooperation is needed. In Sweden you often talk about the two blocs – red (left) and blue (right) – parties that have more in common with each other and tend to vote the same way.

Why does the speaker of parliament matter?

The speaker formally chairs the Riksdag. They almost always come from the party that has the most votes (although this won't necessarily be the case this time – keep reading to find out why), and are assisted by a couple of deputy speakers, usually from the parties that are second and third.

The speaker also makes sure that someone forms a government, because according to the rules, he or she is in charge of putting forward a proposal for who should become prime minister. That is however usually preceded by plenty of discussions behind closed doors.

The speaker has four attempts to get parliament to agree to a new prime minister, or at least convince enough MPs to abstain and not actively vote against the candidate. If they fail to agree, a new election shall be held within three months. So far, parliament has always approved the first proposal.

What happens if there is no government?

A government that does not enjoy the tacit support by a majority in the Riksdag, which could happen in Sweden in the coming days, is allowed to continue working until a new government is in place. A so-called transitional government has in principle the same powers as a regular government, but it may not call a new election and in practice it usually only executes decisions in matters that are already ongoing.

Can MPs vote however they want in parliament?

Yes, there is no law stating that you have to toe the party line. There are several examples of members who have opposed their party on various issues. One such case was the controversial use of signals intelligence in 2008, where Liberal MP Camilla Lindberg went against the party line and voted no. Her colleague Birgitta Ohlsson was also critical, but chose to abstain out of respect for her party.

There are also independents who have left their party and either joined another or just represent themselves. The Sweden Democrat group has a handful of MPs who switched to breakout group the Alternative for Sweden party, which has never otherwise been elected to parliament.

How does it compare to other systems?

In other countries it is common that parliament has two chambers: for example the Senate and House of Representatives in the US, or the House of Commons and House of Lords in the UK. Sweden abolished its two-chamber system in 1971 and has since only had the one chamber.

What happens next?

The newly elected members of the Riksdag will meet for a roll-call at 11am on September 24th. On the same day, they will also elect a speaker. Due to the unusual situation with two very weak blocs (the left wing has 144 seats, the right wing 143, and the far-right Sweden Democrats 62) it looks like the right-wing's candidate will become speaker despite the left-wing Social Democrats being the largest party.

The opening of the Riksdag session on September 25th then formally marks the start of a new term. King Carl XVI Gustaf, who has no formal powers, will attend on the first day to declare the new session open.

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Politics in Sweden: What are Jimmie Åkesson’s plans for the future?

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson's absence from one of the main events in the political calendar has prompted pundits to wonder what his plans are after 18 years at the helm of the party.

Politics in Sweden: What are Jimmie Åkesson's plans for the future?

Åkesson will not speak at Almedalen Week – Sweden’s annual political festival – this year, the party announced last week.

The far-right leader told the Sweden Democrats’ communications channel Riks that he would take a longer summer holiday instead, as many Swedes do. It’s common in Sweden to take at least four weeks off in June-August, and even the world of politics tends to slow down.

That is, however, with the exception of Almedalen Week, the main event of the yearly political calendar. Every day, one or two of the party leaders delivers a keynote speech, and it is unusual for them to miss out on this opportunity to present their policies at prime time.

Unusual, but not unheard of.

Former Social Democrat leader and prime minister Stefan Löfven cancelled his attendance at the festival in 2019 and 2021 – in 2021 to deal with a government crisis – and so did former Moderate leader and prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in 2007.

But after 18 years as leader of the Sweden Democrats, Åkesson’s absence raises questions about his plans for the future.

The news comes after he was unusually quiet following the September election, suddenly reappeared with a flurry of interviews in the Swedish newspapers in spring, only to announce he’s taking a long summer holiday.

Åkesson’s position is probably the most secure of any party leader. He led the Sweden Democrats from obscurity on the neo-Nazi fringe to becoming the country’s second largest party in just a couple of decades. If he wants to stay on, he’s unthreatened.

But does he?

At Almedalen Week, the Sweden Democrats will instead be represented by their new parliamentary group leader Linda Lindberg, to help her develop her public profile, said Åkesson.

Lindberg is currently the chair of the party’s women’s branch and could help boost its popularity among women – or at least improve its reputation as an all-boys club.

But she is new and unknown in a party with a few strong names. Often mentioned in leadership discussions are Mattias Karlsson, Henrik Vinge, Oscar Sjöstedt and Jessica Stegrud.

Karlsson is often described as the brain behind the party’s ideology and has previously deputised for Åkesson, but he has also said he doesn’t enjoy having such a senior role.

Vinge is the party’s former group leader in parliament, former press spokesperson and current deputy party leader, but he has been involved in a conflict with another party member.

Sjöstedt is the party’s spokesperson on economic issues, but is also known for featuring in a video in which he retold anti-Semitic jokes – an image the party is trying to ditch.

Stegrud, a former member of the European Parliament and current member of the Swedish parliament, joined Åkesson for his campaign tour ahead of the 2022 election. But is she well known enough among the public to take over the helm of the party?

The point may be moot, anyway. As broadcaster TV4’s political reporter points out in an article, Åkesson is practically a newbie compared to one of the Christian Democrats’ former party leaders, Alf Svensson, who held his position for more than 30 years.

And Åkesson will not want to leave unless he’s sure his shoes can be filled.

In other news

Thirteen out of 24 government ministers identify as feminists, according to a survey by Swedish public radio. The new right-wing government made headlines when it scrapped the former centre-left government’s “feminist foreign policy” when it assumed office after the 2022 election.

“Of course [I’m a feminist]. In the sense that girls and women should have the same rights and opportunities as boys and men. And that’s not the case today,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told the radio.

Turkey is not ready to let Sweden into Nato, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week told CNN. Turkey is set to hold a new round of elections on May 28th, and Sweden’s Kristersson said he didn’t expect much to happen before then. He added that his hope was still that Sweden would become a member of Nato before the summit in Lithuania in mid-July, but conceded that time was “shrinking”. 

Sweden has appointed a new EU ambassador to replace Lars Danielsson, who will retire this summer after six years in the role.

Mikaela Kumlin Granit, who is currently Sweden’s ambassador to the UK, will take over as EU ambassador in August.

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.