Sweden is famous for being one of the world’s best-functioning democracies. Around 100 years ago, Sweden became a more inclusive representative democracy when voting rights were also granted to women. Until the 1950s, Sweden was with some other European countries such as France and Denmark, among the few democracies in the world. Different annual analyses such as Freedom House, Economist Democracy Index and Varieties of Democracy often place Sweden high on the score list on how democracy functions regarding freedoms, rights and media.
At the same time, during the 2010s, several publications in academia and politics stated that Swedish democracy is having larger problems, challenges and shortages. Such a situation has also been presented in a government survey called “Demokratiuredningen” (Democracy inquiry).
Also, during the 2010s, a rise of populist, nationalist, and ethnocratic rhetoric and behaviors took place higher than during the 2000s and 1990s. One vital change here is the development of the far-right populist Sweden Democrats political party, which is against liberal-democratic constitutionalism and the most centralized and top-managed political party in Sweden.
In his recent book “Den hotade demokratin. Så kan den räddas i populismens i tid” (The threatened democracy. How it can be saved in the time of populism), writer Olle Waestberg writes about problems and challenges for democracy in Sweden, Europe and globally.
According to Waestberg, one of the main problems in Sweden today is that political parties in the parliament have developed from mass and larger movements into more elitist and centralized organizations. In his book, he presents several important facts to understand the current problems and how they can be solved.
- 59% of Swedes think that democracy has been weakened during the recent ten years
- Since 2015, several hundred politicians in Sweden have been verbally or physically threatened and expressed that they often feel uncomfortable or even afraid to express their views.
- Aspects such as the “professionalization of politics” and the reduction of the number of municipalities have resulted in gaps between the general population and political trustees (politicians with decision-making assignments). In 1952 the number of political trustees was around 200 000 while today is around 35 000 despite Sweden’s population growth.
- Young Swedes between the ages of 16–25 are more interested in society and politics than in earlier periods. At the same time, around 50 % of Swedes in age 18–29 think it would be better for experts, rather than government and the parliament, to make the best decisions for Sweden.
- A large number of young Swedes think that they do not have the possibilities to present their opinions and ideas to politicians at the local level.
- Only around 60% of Swedes strongly disapprove that Sweden should be governed by “a strong leader” who does not care about general elections.
- During several World Values Surveys, around 25% of Swedes in age 18–29 regarded that it was not important to live in a democracy, and around 15% regarded that it would be good if Sweden was governed by a military dictatorship, while around 80% regarded that politicians have become detached from voters.
- Only around 15 % of Swedes think that they have a certain influence on political decisions between electoral periods while the majority think they do not have a voice that is listened to or have their own political representation. Basically, the majority do not see themselves as completely politically represented.
- Social trust in political parties is lower today compared to older periods as the 1990s.
- In 2000, around 20% of adult voters in Sweden were also members of political parties. Today, only around 2,5 % of adult voters are also members of political parties.
- In 1992, political parties in Sweden had around 625 000 members, while in 2017, the number was 255 883.
- At the beginning of the 1990s, every second adult Swede was an active member of a certain civil society organization. Today, almost every third Swede is active in some NGO or similar.
- In Sweden, there is no official demand that politicians and candidates have to live in the constituency they are representing. This means that politicians in practice can represent municipalities and regions where they are not living or have experience.
- All political parties and their youth organizations represented in the parliament are depending on public money, based on a benefit system for the political parties from the public budget. This system from 1967 makes parties today more dependent on the government than on members. A similar situation exists regarding the civil society sector in Sweden.
- Swedish politicians in Europe are among the most negative ones towards direct democracy by having negative attitudes towards ideas of popular referendums at local levels.
- Voting participation during general elections in Sweden is still among the highest globally seen. It often goes beyond 85%. However, there are big local differences when comparing municipalities and their economic situations and income per capita. Within the big cities Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmoe the differences can be high where 40–50 % of adult residents living in areas with higher numbers of low-income earners and immigrated individuals are abstaining from voting.
- Swedish Members of Parliament are expected within their party formations to always vote as “the crowd is voting”, and not to vote individually on different issues. This means that parliamentarians often do not vote according to their ambitions and interests, and are often neither willing nor able to vote according to majorities within their constituencies. One big difference is how Swedish Members of the European Parlarimen are voting where they have better possibilities to be flexible.
- Despite that, almost every third voter in Sweden during the 2018 general elections was 65+ years old, only around 2,5% of Swedish MPs are above 65.
- Sweden’s constitution (basic law) can be changed easily compared to many other nations worldwide. Swedish representative democracy could be abolished within 14 months through simple majority voting in the parliament and extra elections.
- There is no constitutional court in Sweden. However, the idea of a constitutional court or tribunal has been gaining popularity in recent years.