SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

POLITICS

What are Sweden’s church elections and how do they work?

September 19th is the date of Sweden's Church Election, a surprising tradition in a largely secular country.

What are Sweden's church elections and how do they work?
Sweden's church elections use a very similar system to the parliamentary elections. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The Lutheran Church of Sweden retains a special status in Sweden, even if church and state were officially separated in 2000.

Nevertheless, it’s Europe’s largest Lutheran denomination, and worldwide only Ethiopia and Tazmania have larger Lutheran church bodies. Headquarted in Uppsala and led by Antje Jackelén, Sweden’s first female archbishop, its main roles are offering church services including weddings, baptisms and funerals, but also offering support to members of its congregations and even aid overseas.

The contenders in the election are sometimes linked to political parties, with the Social Democrats currently the largest represented group and the Centre Party and Sweden Democrats also putting forward candidates. Some other groups are linked to certain political parties, such as the Christian Democrats in the Swedish Church, the Left in the Swedish Church, the Green Party in the Swedish Church, and the Free Liberals in the Swedish Church.

Other groups without any political party ties also field candidates, including the Non-partisans in Church of Sweden (Posk), which became the second largest group in the 2017 election.

One of the big questions is how church funds should be spent, but there are also debates on how the Church should be run. For example, the Christian Democrats are in favour of the introduction of Christian schools, the Left want to devote more funds to the Church’s social work supporting vulnerable parishioners, and some parties have also taken a clear stance on whether priests should be obliged to carry out marriages for same-sex couples.

Sweden’s church elections were modelled on national elections back at the time when it was a state church, and there are elections to the 249 seats of the Synod, as well as at the the diocesan and parish levels.

The elections take place every four years, just like Sweden’s general elections – although they run on different schedules. Even if they ended up scheduled for the same year, as looked possible this year when Sweden’s prime minister resigned, the two cannot be held on the same day due to rules that state elections must be carried out in a neutral way (värdeneutral in Swedish).

The other big difference between the two votes is that while Sweden has typically high voter turnouts for its parliamentary elections, the church elections usually see low turnouts. The previous vote saw only 19 percent of eligible voters head to the polls, which was still the highest turnout since 1934.

Around half the population has the right to vote, which requires being aged over 16 and a member of the Church. Up until 1996, newly born children were automatically made members unless their parents opted out, but this was changed to opt-in. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren explains how Sweden's parliamentary committees work – and the role the Sweden Democrats will play in them.

Sweden Elects: How powerful are the Sweden Democrats now?

Hej,

The speaker of parliament has given Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderates and the likely next prime minister of Sweden, October 12th as a deadline to conclude his government negotiations.

If Kristersson comes up with a viable proposal for a ruling coalition, the speaker will put that proposal to parliament within four days. Chances are Sweden will have its new right-wing government by mid-October.

What will that government look like? Most likely, it will consist of at least the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. Rumours have it Kristersson is hoping to bring the Liberals into the governmental fold, and it is unlikely that the far-right Sweden Democrats will be part of the government.

But anyone who thinks the latter means they will be left on the sidelines is mistaken. They will have demanded significant concessions in order to support Kristersson’s government (and especially to make way for the Liberals) from parliament, and judging from recent news, they got them.

In a joint press release last week, the right wing – the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Sweden Democrats – said they had reached a deal on how to share responsibility for their parliamentary committees.

There are 15 committees in the Swedish parliament, seats on which are held by members of parliament, with larger parties getting more seats as well as more high-ranking roles such as chair and deputy chair.

The right wing is after this election entitled to 16 chair and deputy chair roles, and the Sweden Democrats will get half of those, the parties agreed. The key thing that many political pundits were keeping an eye on was which committees, as that tells us a lot about how far they got in their negotiations with the other right-wing parties. The answer: far.

The Sweden Democrats will get to chair the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour Market, and Industry and Trade Committees – all heavyweight committees. 

Their most high-profile appointment is Richard Jomshof, one of the most senior Sweden Democrats who in the run-up to the election gave an anti-Islam speech (not the first time). He will chair the Justice Committee.

The Moderates will chair the Finance and Social Insurance Committees (plus the EU Committee), the Christian Democrats will chair the Health and Welfare Committee, and the Liberals will chair the Education Committee.

On the other side, the left-wing parties will get to chair the Defence, Taxation, Constitution, Civil Affairs, Transport and Communications, Environment and Agriculture, and Cultural Affairs Committees.

So what exactly do the parliamentary committees do, and how much influence will the Sweden Democrats now have over legislation?

The votes of every member of the committees count equally (there are at least 15 members on every committee, representing the various parties from left to right), and the chair gets the final vote if there’s a tie. He or she also has influence over the committee’s agenda and over how meetings are directed, with the position also bringing prestige.

All government bills and proposals by members of parliament first go through one of the committees before they can be put to the main chamber for a vote. The committee adopts a position on the proposal and although the final decision rests with the 349 members of the main chamber, they usually vote for the committee’s position since the make-up of their members represent the parties in parliament.

Although chair positions give them a procedural advantage, the Sweden Democrats won’t have unlimited power over their committees, since as I said, the other parties have seats too and their votes count equally.

The main benefit for the Sweden Democrats is rather the soft power it gives them. The chair is the face of the parliamentary committee, and these senior roles will force the other parties to take them seriously.

Another aspect to bear in mind is that they’ll have enough seats on each committee that they will have a key kingmaker role where they can side either with the government or the opposition – giving them fairly significant negotiating power when it comes to future legislation.

In other news, the Swedish parliament last week re-elected the popular Andreas Norlén as speaker, it’s been taking much longer than usual to get a work permit (here’s why) and foreigners are calling for the Migration Agency to issue special visas to allow those affected by renewal delays to leave Sweden and return, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has stopped leaking gas, and households in Sweden are starting to feel the economic squeeze.

In the latest episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast, host Paul O’Mahony is joined by Handelsbanken chief economist Johan Löf, as well as The Local’s Becky Waterton, Richard Orange and James Savage.

Many thanks to everyone who’s got in touch lately with your thoughts and feedback about Sweden Elects. I’m happy it’s useful to you. If you have any questions about Swedish politics, you’re always welcome to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Emma

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

SHOW COMMENTS