Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Swedish Riksdag
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

Sweden held a general election on Sunday, September 19, 2010. A review of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the unicameral Swedish legislature - the Riksdag - is presented here.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results will be available here. In addition, the Swedish Election Authority will have detailed results in Swedish of the 2014 European election in Sweden.

National- and constituency-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Riksdag elections:

      September 19, 2010      
      September 17, 2006      
      September 15, 2002      
      September 20, 1998      
      September 18, 1994      
      September 15, 1991      
      September 18, 1988      
      September 15, 1985      
      September 19, 1982      
      September 16, 1979      
      September 19, 1976      
      September 16, 1973      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by the Swedish Election Authority and Statistics Sweden.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Kingdom of Sweden, the Riksdag, is composed of 349 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a maximum term of four years.

Members of the Riksdag are elected by a two-tier proportional representation (PR) system. A total of 310 seats are filled in twenty-nine multi-member electoral constituencies. Permanent constituency seats, which are allocated among the constituencies in proportion to the size of their electorates, are distributed according to the adjusted odd-number or modified Sainte-Laguë method of PR. Voters may cast a ballot for a constituency party list, or for a specific candidate.

Riksdag seats are apportioned on a nationwide basis among political parties in the same manner as constituency seats, namely by the modified Sainte-Laguë method. In order to participate in the distribution of Riksdag seats, a party must obtain at least four percent of all valid votes cast. However, a party that receives at least twelve percent of all valid votes in a constituency is entitled to take part in the distribution of that constituency's permanent seats.

If the number of seats awarded to a party on a nationwide basis is smaller than its total number of constituency seats, the constituency seats obtained by the party in question are subtracted from the total number of Riksdag seats, and a nationwide distribution of the remaining seats is carried out among the other qualifying parties. This rule also applies to parties that have obtained constituency seats but polled fewer than four percent of the nationwide vote.

Riksdag mandates won by a party at the multi-member constituency level are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party, and the remaining mandates are filled from thirty-nine adjustment seats. These mandates are subsequently allocated at the constituency level on the basis of the largest Sainte-Laguë quotients which have not been used to allocate permanent seats, or the total number of votes polled by a qualifying party in constituencies where it has not obtained any permanent seats.

The Swedish Riksdag electoral system shares strong similarities with the systems used in neighboring Norway and (to a lesser degree) Denmark to choose members of their respective national legislatures, the Storting and the Folketing.

The Political Parties

Sweden's present-day political party system began to take shape in the late 19th and early 20th century with the emergence of the Social Democratic Party in 1889, the establishment of the Liberal and Conservative parties in 1900 and 1904, respectively, and the appearance of the Agrarian or Farmers' Party in 1913. In the 1917 legislative elections, the Social Democrats and the Liberals won a clear majority, and Liberal leader Nils Edén became Prime Minister, heading the first parliamentary government in Swedish history. In 1921, the Social Democrats' far-left wing, which had previously split off the party, became the Communist Party of Sweden.

In 1932, the Social Democrats - the largest single party since 1917 - won a commanding lead over the other parties, which they have held since then, but fell short of an absolute majority; Social Democratic leader Per Albin Hansson formed a minority government which remained in office until 1936. However, he returned to power later that year, when the Social Democrats formed a coalition government with the Agrarians. During World War II, in which Sweden remained neutral, the coalition was expanded to include the Conservatives and the Liberals (the latter known since 1934 as the Folkpartiet - literally the People's Party).

Hansson, who formed another minority Social Democratic government after the end of the war, remained as head of government until his sudden death in 1946. Tage Erlander, who succeeded Hansson as both party leader and Prime Minister, went on to hold office for a record twenty-three years until he stepped down in 1969. During his tenure the Social Democrats were typically a few seats short of an absolute majority and usually formed minority governments, with two exceptions: from 1951 to 1957, the Social Democratic Party formed another coalition government with the Agrarians, while in 1968 the party won an absolute majority in the lower chamber of Parliament for the first time since 1940. In 1969, Olof Palme succeeded Erlander as party leader and head of government, but in parliamentary elections held the following year, the Social Democrats lost their absolute majority. Nevertheless, the party remained in power with the support of the Left Party Communists (formerly the Communist Party).

A 1971 constitutional reform replaced the existing two-chamber legislature with a unicameral Riksdag. Originally, the Riksdag was composed of 350 members, but in the 1973 general election, the three center-right or bourgeois parties - the Conservatives (since 1969 the Moderate Party; in Swedish the Moderata samlingspartiet, literally the Moderate Coalition or Moderate Unity Party), the Center Party (until 1957 the Agrarian Party), and the Liberals - won between themselves the same number of seats (175) as the Social Democrats and the Left Party Communists together. Parliamentary vote ties were decided by casting lots, and the 1973-76 legislature became known as the "lottery Riksdag." Consequently, the size of the Riksdag was reduced by one, to 349 seats, effective as of 1976.

In 1976, the three center-right parties won an overall majority of eleven seats in the Riksdag and brought four decades of uninterrupted Social Democratic rule to an end. Thorbjörn Fälldin, leader of the Center Party - at the time the largest of the bourgeois parties - formed a coalition government of his party, the Moderates and the Liberals, becoming Sweden's first non-Socialist head of government since 1936. However, two years later Fälldin's government collapsed over differences on the issue of nuclear power, and a minority Liberal government headed by Ola Ullsten ruled the country until 1979, when the three center-right parties won a parliamentary majority of just one seat.

Although the Moderates displaced the Center Party as the largest non-Socialist party, Thorbjörn Fälldin formed a new three-party government, which fell two years later, this time over tax policies. Fälldin then formed a Center-Liberal minority government, but in 1982 the Social Democrats outpolled the three bourgeois parties, and Olof Palme returned to power, heading a Social Democratic Party minority government supported by the Left Party Communists. Despite the defeat of the center-right, the Moderates scored further gains in the election; however, the Center Party continued to decline, and the Liberals had their worst election result up to that point.

In 1985, the Social Democrats obtained fewer seats than the bourgeois parties together, but remained in power with support from the Left Party Communists. At the same time, the Liberals rebounded from their 1982 election disaster, while both the Moderates and the Center Party (the latter in co-operation with the then-tiny Christian Democratic Party) lost ground. The following year, tragedy struck Sweden when Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead by an unknown gunman while walking home from a cinema; the crime remains unsolved to this day. Deputy Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson took over as both head of government and party leader. He subsequently led the Social Democrats to victory in the 1988 general election, in which the environmentalist Green Party (Miljöpartiet de Gröna) won twenty seats in the Riksdag, increasing to six the number of parties with parliamentary representation. However, the Christian Democratic Party failed once again to clear the four percent threshold and remained outside Parliament, although it polled better results than in previous legislative elections.

The 1991 general election brought major changes to Sweden's political landscape. On the left, the Social Democrats were soundly defeated, polling their worst results since 1928; the Greens' share of the vote fell below four percent and the party lost its parliamentary representation, while the Left Party - which following the demise of communism in Eastern Europe dropped "Communists" from its name and sought to recast itself as a Socialist party - barely cleared the legislative representation threshold. On the right, a populist party, New Democracy, entered the Riksdag along with the Christian Democrats, who finally made a breakthrough and secured parliamentary representation on their own right. The latter subsequently joined the traditional non-Socialist parties in a four-party government headed by Moderate leader Carl Bildt, who became Sweden's first conservative Prime Minister since 1928. Nonetheless, Bildt's government lacked an overall majority, and New Democracy held the balance of power in Parliament. In all, the number of parties in the Riksdag increased to seven.

As it was, the Social Democrats would not remain out of power for long. In the 1994 general election, Ingvar Carlsson led the party to a decisive victory and subsequently formed a minority government. The Greens also staged a comeback and returned to the Riksdag. The Moderates scored slightly better results than in 1991, but the Center Party, the Liberals (since 1990 the Folkpartiet Liberalerna, literally the People's Party Liberals) and the Christian Democrats all fared poorly, the latter barely holding on to their parliamentary representation. New Democracy was wiped out, losing most of its voters and all of its seats in the Riksdag. The election, which introduced an extended electoral cycle of four years, was also notable for being the first electoral event in the world whose official results were published live on the nascent World Wide Web (other countries had previously used the then-fledging Internet to officially broadcast election results, but with simpler methods such as e-mail lists).

In 1996, Ingvar Carlsson retired as both Social Democratic Party leader and Prime Minister. Finance Minister Göran Persson, who was chosen as his successor, has held office since then. Nonetheless, in 1998 the Social Democrats had their worst election result since 1914 up to that point, but the party remained in power with the support of both the Left Party - which polled its highest vote ever - and the Green Party. The Christian Democrats also scored their best election result to date and the Moderates made slight gains. However, the Center Party had its worst results since 1917, and the Liberals their lowest poll ever.

The Social Democrats recovered some of their previously lost support in the 2002 general election, and continued to hold office with the support of the Left Party. The Liberals - whose campaign centered on the issue of immigration - staged a remarkable comeback, largely at the expense of the Moderate Party, which incurred in heavy losses but nonetheless remained the largest of the non-Socialist parties. The Center Party, which had been losing votes in every election since 1976, reversed its declining trend and scored slight gains.

It was expected that Prime Minister Persson would step down in 2004, but Persson's likely successor, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, was stabbed to death in September 2003 while on a private shopping trip in Stockholm, and he decided to remain in office. Meanwhile, in October 2003 the Moderate Party chose Fredrik Reinfeldt as its new leader. Reinfeldt sought to move his party away from promises of large-scale tax cuts and steer it towards a more centrist course. For the 2006 general election, the Moderates, the Liberals, the Christian Democrats and the Center Party agreed to run on a common platform, and formed the Alliance for Sweden to challenge the political dominance of the Social Democrats, who had been in power for all but nine of the preceding seventy years. The four center-right parties went on to win a narrow parliamentary majority in the election, while the Social Democratic Party fared even worse than in 1998, although it remained the largest single party in the Riksdag. The Moderates soared, scoring their best results since 1928, but the Liberals were unable to hold on to their 2002 gains and lost considerable ground. Prime Minister Persson conceded defeat, and announced his government would resign.

Two days after the election, Riksdag Speaker Björn von Sydow asked Fredrik Reinfeldt to prepare the formation of a four-party government based on the Moderate Party, the Center Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats. On Thursday, October 5, 2006, the Riksdag elected Reinfeldt as Prime Minister of Sweden, and the following day he presented his Cabinet, in which former Moderate Party leader Carl Bildt - who was Prime Minister from 1991 to 1994 - was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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Copyright © 2006-2014 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: May 25, 2014.