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Summary

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government and unicameral Parliament.  There are twenty-nine electoral districts and elections are held every four years.  Parties must receive 4% of the national vote to receive seats in the Parliament.

Legislation is initiated by the Government or individual members of Parliament and researched by parliamentary committees; it is often vetted by the Law Council before being brought for a vote.  Bills are generally passed by simple majority except for changes to the Constitution or the Parliamentary Working Order (Riksdagsordning), which require two separate votes.  Voting on the budget bill is controlled by special legislation.  The Parliament has met in the same building since 1905.

I.  Background

A.  Sweden

Sweden is a kingdom that was first united in the sixteenth century by Gustav Vasa.[1]  The King still serves as the formal head of state,[2] while executive powers reside in the Prime Minister and his or her government.[3]  The Parliament represents the people and has the power to legislate.[4]

B.  Creation of Parliament

The history of the creation of the Swedish Parliament is not straightforward.  A meeting in 1435, where representatives from different parts of Sweden met in Arboga to discuss national matters, has been called the first parliamentary meeting (the Arboga meeting) but it was not until two national assemblies in Västerås in 1527 and 1544 that representatives from the four estates (nobility, clergy, bourgeoisie, and farmers) met.[5]

The national meetings were called Riksdag (Parliament) starting in the 1540s.[6]  However, real parliamentary meetings were not set up until the 1600s.  This was followed by two hundred years of varying parliamentary influence.[7]

C.  The Parliament Building

The actual Parliament Building that houses the Swedish Parliament, located between Old Town Stockholm and the rest of the city, was erected in 1905.[8]  Prior to 1905 the Parliament met at Stockholm Castle and the Old Parliament Building.[9]

D.  Developments

In 1809 a new Constitution was promulgated (in force until 1974), which gave the Parliament greater powers.[10]  It also set up other functions, such as the court system and a Justitieombudsman (Justice Ombudsman) to whom citizens could turn with grievances against state agencies.[11] 

Women gained the right to vote in 1921, which was also the first year that women were elected to Parliament, then consisting of two chambers.[12]

Until 1971 the Swedish Parliament was bicameral, one house having indirect representation with members elected by regional governments and the other elected through direct elections.[13]

Between 1971 and 1975, the Parliament had 350 members (and votes), which turned out to be difficult as it meant that, in theory, the votes could be split equally in two.[14]  Several legislative proposals put forward during the period from 1973 to 1975 resulted in a draw.[15]  Therefore, the number of seats was reduced to 349 in 1976.[16]

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II.  Constitutional Status and Role

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, i.e., the Monarch is the head of state but serves as a figurehead.[17]  Executive power lies with the Government.[18]  The role of the Parliament is to legislate, impose taxes, spend revenue, and provide oversight of the Government.[19]

Regional municipalities have a constitutionally established right of independence.[20]  The municipalities are responsible for schools and health care, while the state is responsible for the police, defense, and similar national interests.[21] 

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III.  Structure and Composition

A.  General

The Parliament is unicameral with 349 seats.  There are currently eight parties in the Parliament—the Social Democrats have 113 seats (31.01%), the Moderates eighty-four seats (23.33%), the Swedish Democrats forty-eight seats (12.86%), the Liberals nineteen seats (5.42%), the Center Party twenty-two seats (6.11%), the Left twenty-one seats (5.72%), the Greens twenty-five seats (6.89%), and the Christian Democrats sixteen seats (4.57%).[22]  One need not be a Member of Parliament (MP) to be a chairperson of a political party.  For instance, Ebba Busch Thor of the Christian Democrats is not an MP.[23]  In party leadership debates in the Parliament she is represented by the leader of her party.[24]

The members represent regional constituencies, with each region represented proportionally, i.e., not by a winner-takes-all system.  There are 310 seats divided by county and an additional thirty-nine seats that are “adjustment” seats, meaning seats filled to better reflect the election results.[25]  The numbers of permanent seats versus adjustment seats are established by the Central Elections Authority no later than April 30 of the year in which the national election takes place.[26]

The counties are listed in law.[27]  The counties and the number of seats are as follows: Skåne County South, thirteen seats; Skåne County West, eleven seats; City of Malmö, eleven seats; Skåne County North and East, thirteen seats; Halland County, twelve seats; Blekinge County, five seats; Kronoberg County, six seats; Kalmar County, eight seats; Jönköping Country, thirteen seats; Västra Gotaland County South, six seats; City of Gothenburg, seventeen seats; Västra Götaland County West, thirteen seats; Västra Götaland County North, thirteen seats; Västra Götaland County East, ten seats; Östergötland County, fifteen seats; Södermanland County, eleven seats; Stockholm County, thirty-nine seats; Värmland County, eleven seats; Örebro County, twelve seats; Västmanland County, ten seats; Uppsala County, twelve seats; Gävleborg County, eleven seats; Dalarna County, eleven seats; Jämtland County, four seats; Västernorrland County, ten seats; Västerbotten County, ten seats; Norrbotten County, eight seats; and Gotland County, two seats.[28]

The distribution of seats is regulated in chapter 14 of the Election Law.[29]  Seats are calculated by the following formula:

3 § The permanent mandates shall for each electoral district be distributed proportionally between parties that are part of the distribution. The distribution takes place by the use of a “comparable value” which is calculated for the parties based on the election results in the that electorate. The party that at each calculation gets the largest comparative value is awarded a mandate/seat.

. . . The calculation shall be done by using an adjusted odd-number method. This means that as long as one party has not received a seat the comparative value is calculated by the party’s votes in the electoral divided by 1,2. When the party has gotten a mandate a new comparative value is calculated by the party’s votes divided by 3. Thereafter the process continues by dividing the party’s votes with the closest highest odd-number for each awarded seat. Lag (2014:1384).[30]

4 § To determine how many seats a party should have in total in the Parliament in order to be proportionally represented in the entire country, [the same] adjusted odd-number method is applied using the entire country as an electoral district. Lag (2014:1384).[31]

The establishment of electoral regions is based on the national census registry as it exists on the first of March of the election year.[32]

Parties must receive a threshold of 4% of the vote nationally or 12% in an election precinct to receive a seat in Parliament.  In certain areas, such as Gotland, which only has two seats, 12% is not sufficient to receive a seat.

B.  Committees

There are fifteen committees in parliament, two of which are prescribed in the Constitution (the Committee on the Constitution and the Committee on Finance):[33]

  • Committee on Civil Affairs
  • Committee on the Constitution
  • Committee on Cultural Affairs
  • Committee on Defense
  • Committee on Education
  • Committee on Environment and Agriculture
  • Committee on Finance
  • Committee on Foreign Affairs
  • Committee on Health and Welfare
  • Committee on Industry and Trade
  • Committee on Justice
  • Committee on the Labor Market
  • Committee on Social Insurance
  • Committee on Taxation
  • Committee on Transport and Communications[34]

There is also a Committee on European Union Affairs.[35]

The Parliament may constitute additional committees, and if it does it must provide a description of the work to be done in the committee.[36]  Each committee must have an uneven number of members and not less than fifteen members.[37]  The committees must work together with the Committee on EU Affairs when the work so requires.[38]

The role of a committee is to consider legislation in the committee’s subject area, such as defense.[39]

Work in the committees take place behind closed doors.[40]  Meetings may, however, take place in public if the committee considers it necessary in order to obtain information related to its legislative work.[41]  The purpose of such public committee meetings is to hold committee hearings.[42]

C.  Law Council

Before a bill is presented to Parliament the proposed legislation must be reviewed by the Law Council if the legislation pertains to certain issues, including constitutional changes to press freedoms, access to public documents, treatment of personal data, and municipal obligations.[43]  The Law Council reviews legislation to determine how the proposal holds up against the Constitution and law and order generally, how the provisions of the text relate to each other and relate to the rule of law, whether the legislation furthers its stated purpose, and whether there are any problems that might occur during application of the law.[44]  The composition of the Law Council is regulated by law.[45]

The Law Council’s reports are published on its website.[46]

D.  Speaker of the Parliament

There is one Speaker of the Parliament (talmannen)[47] and three deputies.[48]  By tradition the Speaker of the House is a representative from the largest party, the First Vice Speaker is a representative of the second largest party, the Second Vice Speaker is a representative of the third largest party, and the Third Vice Speaker is a representative of the fourth largest party.  Following the 2014 election there was great debate surrounding the Speaker, as the third largest party was the Sweden Democrats.[49]  Prior to this election, the remaining seven parties in Parliament had made a point of not working with the party and several MPs were very concerned that this anti-immigration party would represent Sweden.  In the end the Sweden Democrats did receive the second deputy position.[50]

The Speaker of the House can act as temporary head of state.[51]  The Speaker suggests when a vote on a particular bill must be held.[52]  The Speaker also initiates the selection of the Prime Minister (see Part IV, below).

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IV.  Elections

A.  General Election Cycle

The Parliament meets annually.[53]  Elections occur four years apart,[54] on the second Sunday in September.[55]  The next election will be on September 9, 2018.  Results of the 2014 election are published on the Election Agency’s website.[56]  Prior to 1994 the election cycle was three years.[57]

There are no term limits for individual members of Parliament, their leaders, or the Prime Minister.  The longest ruling party is the Social Democrats who have been in government (coalition or simple majority) for forty-four continuous years from 1932 to 1976, and for seventy of the last one hundred years.[58]

Elections are direct and secret.[59]  Voters may cast a vote for a party or for an individual of a party (so called personröst).[60]  Every citizen eighteen years and older who resides or has resided in Sweden is eligible to vote or to be elected in the parliamentary election.[61]

B.  Extraordinary Elections

The Government (Regeringen) can announce extraordinary elections under special circumstances.[62]  An extraordinary election has been held only once in Sweden’s history, in 1958.[63]  In 2014 the current Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of the Social Democrats stated that he would announce an extraordinary election but later cancelled it.[64]

C.  Electoral Voting System

A representative electoral system is in place for parliamentary seats.  As stated above, there are twenty-nine electoral districts in Sweden.  Of the 349 seats in Parliament, 310 are “firm” representatives while an additional thirty-nine seats are adjustments seats, distributed between the parties to better reflect the national voter outcome.[65]  A party must receive at least 4% of the national vote to receive seats in Parliament.[66]

Voter participation in parliamentary elections is generally high.  In 2014, voter turnout was 85.81%, up from 84.63% in 2010.[67] 

D.  Formation of Parliament/Government

Following a general election, the formation of Parliament is initiated by the Speaker of the House, who, after discussions with party leadership and the vice speakers, announces who he or she proposes as responsible for constituting a government.[68]  The Parliament then votes for or against the suggested Prime Minister, and provided the majority is not against the Prime Minister he or she is allowed to form a government.[69]  This rule was adopted in 2010 to allow for minority governments to form more easily.[70]

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V.  Legislative Process

A.  Budget Bill

The adoption of a budget bill follows special rules.[71]  A budget bill should be presented no later than September 20 of each year.[72]  In an election year (elections are held in September, see Part IV(A), above) the budget proposal should be presented to Parliament no later than two weeks after the parliamentary session has started.[73]

By tradition, parties have either voted for their own bill or abstained from voting.  In 2014 the Swedish Democrats voted for the Alliance (opposition) budget, which thus received more votes than the Government (Social Democrat and Green Party) budget.  The move was a first in Swedish politics.  As a result, the Alliance budget bill passed and the Government had to use the opposition budget to govern the country.  Changes were made in the spring adjustment budget, but not until fall 2015 could the Government present its own budget.

As a result, with the intention of ensuring that the Government would be able to pass its budgets, six parties (the Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Moderates, the Center Party, the Liberals, and the Christian Democrats) agreed to not vote against the ruling Government’s bill between 2015 and 2022.[74]  The agreement was called the Decemberöverenskommelsen (DÖ),[75] and received considerable criticism for not being democratic, as the opposition effectively could not vote for its own proposals in fear that the Swedish Democrats would vote for them as well.[76]  The agreement was voted down by the General Meeting of the Christian Democrat Party on October 9, 2015.[77]  On the same day the Moderate party announced that by the Christian Democrats’ leaving the agreement the agreement had in fact been broken and no longer bound the other five parties.[78]  The Alliance did not present a common budget in the fall of 2015.

B.  All Other Bills

New legislation is initiated through proposals (motioner) presented by individual MPs or groups of MPs, which are then researched and recommended for votes by committees, then voted on by Parliament.  Government proposals are also voted on by Parliament.[79]  A simple majority is enough for all bills except the budget bill (see above) and proposals to change the Constitution.

Special voting is required for the four pieces of legislation that make up the Constitution (Riksdagsförordningen, Tryckfrihetsförordningen, Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen, and Successionsordningen) as well as for the Riksdagsordning (not part of the Constitution but a special law that regulates how Parliament operates).  Amendments to these acts require a majority in two separate voting sessions, with a general election in between.[80]  In addition, the Parliamentary Working Order may also be amended by one single vote provided that at least three-fourths of the voting MPs constituting at least half of all MPs approve the bill.[81]

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
January 2016


[1] Att styra, skatta och bedöma, Statens Fastighetsverk, http://www.sfv.se/sv/bygg-pa-kunskap/vara-byggnadsminnen-berattar-historien/arkitekturens-stilar-och-ismer (last visited Dec. 8, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/D5JX-MBUL.

[2] 1 ch. 5 § Regeringsformen [RF] [Constitution].

[3] Id. 1 ch. 6 §.

[4] Id. 1 ch. 1-4 §§.

[5] Riksdagens historia, Sveriges Riksdag (Feb. 26, 2015), http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/Sa-funkar-riksdagen/Demokrati/Riksdagens-historia, archived at https://perma.cc/Y5EL-56GS.

[6] Id.

[7] See id.

[8] Gamla riksdagshuset på Riddarholmen, Statens Fastighetsverk, http://www.sfv.se/sv/fastigheter/sverige/ stockholms-lan-ab/riddarholmen/gamla-riksdagshuset-pa-riddarholmen (last visited Dec. 4, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/A9KM-CG2S.

[9] Id.

[10] Sveriges Riksdag, supra note 5.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] 1 ch. 5 § RF.

[18] 1 ch. 6 § RF.

[19] 1 ch. 4 § RF.

[20] 1 ch. 1 § RF.  See also Kommunallagen (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1991:900), https://www.notisum. se/rnp/sls/lag/19910900.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/H79X-TL5M.

[21] Försvarsdepartementet, Regeringskansliet, http://www.regeringen.se/sveriges-regering/forsvars departementet, archived at https://perma.cc/F5ER-N4MS; 10 ch. 24 § Skollagen (SFS 2010:800), https://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/20100800.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/ZHA7-3KWP; see also SOU 2005:84 En ny uppgifts- och ansvarsfördelning mellan polis och åklagare at 133, http://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/9cf5b92d893641a4a0a3b99ed2687d93/en-ny-uppgifts--och-ansvarsfordelning-mellan-polis-och-aklagare-del-2, archived at https://perma.cc/D84W-KD9W.   

[22] Val till riksdagen – Röster, Valmyndigheten (Sept. 19, 2014), http://www.val.se/val/val2014/slutresultat/ R/rike/index.html, archived at https://perma.cc/VHS9-WG38

[23] Ebba Busch Thor, Riksdagen, http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/ledamoter-partier/Ej-invalda-personer/Ebba-Busch-Thor (last visited Dec. 4, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/T9YT-AC4F.

[24] Emelie Nyman, Doldisen ska axla Busch Thors mantel, SVD (Oct. 13, 2015), http://www.svd.se/doldisen-ska-axla-ebba-busch-thors-mantel, archived at https://perma.cc/Q9WV-VLT6.

[25] Så fördelas platserna i riksdagen, Sveriges Riksdag (June 24, 2014), http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/Sa-funkar-riksdagen/Demokrati/Val-till-riksdagen/Sa-fordelas-platserna-i-riksdagen, archived at https://perma.cc/XF52-4NVH.  

[26] 4 ch. 3 § Vallag (SFS 2005:837), https://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/20050837.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/Q38A-CF4Y

[26] Id. 4 ch. 2 §. 

[28] Members and Parties, Riksdagen, http://www.riksdagen.se/en/Members-and-parties (last visited Nov. 4, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/P8EM-F9Q3.

[29] 14 ch. Vallagen.

[30] Id. 3 §.

[31] Id. 3–4 §§.

[32] Id 4 §.

[33] 4 ch. 3 § RF.

[34] 7 ch. 2 § Addendum 7.2.1 to Riksdagsordningen (SFS 2014:801), https://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/ 20140801.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/QG83-54GZ; see also The 15 Parliamentary Committees, Sveriges Riksdag (Oct. 1, 2015), http://www.riksdagen.se/en/Committees/The-15-parliamentary-committees, archived at https://perma.cc/M2S4-WZBF.   

[35] The Committee on European Union Affairs, Sveriges Riksdag (Oct. 7, 2014), http://www.riksdagen. se/en/Committees/The-Committee-on-European-Union-Affairs, archived at https://perma.cc/K53V-5VGG

[36] Tilläggsbestämmelse 7.2.2 [Addendum 7.2.2.] Riksdagsordningen.

[37] 7 ch. 4 § Riksdagsordningen.

[38] Id. 7 ch. 15 §.

[39] Id. 7 ch. 5, 8–10 §§.

[40] Id. 7 ch. 16 §. 

[41] Id. 7 ch. 17 §.

[42] See Jenny Jonasson & Ingvar Åkesson, Comment 157, in Karnov Svensk lagsamling med kommentarer 2014/2015 at 45 (comment to the previous Riksdagsordning SFS 1974:153).

[43] 8 ch. 21 § RF.

[44] Id. 8 ch. 22 §.

[45] Lag om Lagrådet [Act on the Law Council] (SFS 2003:333), http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/ 20030333.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/NK3M-A7PD

[46] Lagrådet, http://www.lagradet.se (last visited Dec. 8, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/T2WL-FYMB

[48] 4 ch. 2 § RF.

[49] Obefintligh chans att SD får talmanspost, SVD (Sept. 18, 2015), http://www.svd.se/obefintlig-chans-att-sd-far-talmanspost, archived at https://perma.cc/YCK2-EX8A.

[50] SD får vice talmanspost, SVT (Sept. 18, 2014), http://www.svt.se/nyheter/val2014/sd-far-vice-talmanspost, archived at https://perma.cc/YJY2-GJ92; Vice talmän, Sveriges Riksdag (Dec. 15, 2014), http://www.riksdagen. se/sv/Sa-funkar-riksdagen/Talmannen/Vice-talman, archived at https://perma.cc/TGK7-2FL9.

[51] 5 ch. 7 § 2 para. RF.

[52] 9 ch. 3 § Riksdagsordningen.

[53] 4 ch. 1 § RF.

[54] Id. 3 ch. 3 §. 

[56] Val till riksdagen – Röster, supra note 22. 

[57] Sveriges Riksdag, supra note 5.

[58] Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/topic/ Swedish-Social-Democratic-Party, (last visited Dec. 8, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/AP6H-A927.

[59] 3 ch. 1 § RF.

[60] Id.

[61] Id. 3 ch. 4 §.

[62] Id. 3 ch. 11 §.

[64] Tomas Ramberg, Tomas Ramberg: Extravalet som inte blev av, Sveriges Radio (Mar. 22, 2015), http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=6122886, archived at https://perma.cc/L2KN-L4BK.

[65] 3 ch. 6 § RF.

[66] Id. 3 ch. 7 §.

[67] Val till Riksdagen – Röster, supra note 22.

[68] 6 ch. 4 § RF.

[69] Id

[72] Tilläggsbestämmelse 9.5.1[Addendum 9.5.1 to] Riksdagsordningen.

[73] Id.

[74] Överrenskommelsen, Kristdemokraterna, https://kristdemokraterna.se/Global/pdf/December%c3%b6veren skommelsen.pdf (last visited Dec. 4, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/6YV2-2MT8

[75] Id.

[76] Så fungerar decemberöverenskommelsen, DagensNyheter (Dec. 27, 2015), http://www.dn.se/nyheter/politik/sa-fungerar-decemberoverenskommelsen, archived at http://perma.cc/64LN-VCX8

[77] Ebba Busch Thor, Kristdemokraterna lämnar Decemberöverenskommelsen, Kristdemokraterna (Oct. 9, 2015), https://kristdemokraterna.se/Media/Nyhetsarkiv/Kristdemokraterna-sager-xx-till-Decemberoverenskommelsen, archived at https://perma.cc/7S2C-QJUW.

[78] Viktor Mölne, Kinberg Batra: Jag kan konstatera att överenskommelsen är upphävd, Dagens Industri (Oct. 9, 2015), http://www.di.se/artiklar/2015/10/9/kinberg-batra-jag-kan-konstatera-att-overenskommelsen-ar-upphavd, archived at http://perma.cc/XD29-JSEL (click “Screen capture” tab).

[79] 9 ch. 2 § Riksdagsordningen.

[80] 8 ch. 14 § RF.

[81] Id. 8 ch. 17 §.

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Last Updated: 02/12/2016