This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.
On November 29, 2021, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) elected its first female prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, for a second time. The first time was on November 23, 2021, on what was dubbed “Super Wednesday” (superonsdagen) in the Swedish press, when the newly elected PM stepped down before the regerinsskifteskonselj (official transfer of government) at the Royal Palace with the Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (head of state). She stepped down becaause her coalition party left the government when their budget was voted down and replaced by the opposition budget by the Swedish Parliament.
The Swedish Constitution provides that prime ministers are elected as long as a majority of members do not vote against them. (6 ch. 3 § Regeringsformen (RF) [Instrument of Government] [Swedish Constitution](SFS 1975:152).) In the case of Magdalena Andersson, the result of the second vote, with 173 out of 349 total members voting against her, 101 in favor, and 75 abstaining, highlighted Sweden‘s divided chamber where the “left block” holds 175 seats against the “right block” opposition of 174. The process also highlighted the role of the only member of Parliament who is currently unaffiliated with a party (previously a member of the Left party), who struck a deal to vote in favor of the prime minister and the unusual power they may hold in a Parliament that otherwise shows little room for individual deals.
Referred to as politiska vildar (literally political savages), members of Parliament who no longer hold a political affiliation can be seen as wildcards in the Swedish Parliament, where party loyalty is strong and members vote with their party leadership more than 93% of the time. For example, during the parliamentary term of 2010-2014, members only voted against party lines nine times, and several times were by accident. Members of Parliament are not legally required to vote with their party.
The role of the politically unaffiliated member is about to change next year when politically unaffiliated members will no longer be able to retain seats on parliamentary committees that they obtained while part of a political party.
1. How are members of Parliament elected?
To be elected to Parliament a person must be a member of a political party. (3 ch. 1 § RF; 2 ch. 9 § Vallag (2005:837).) Parties make a list during the election process, listing the order in which candidates will be elected to Parliament depending on the number of seats that the party receives. (6 ch. 3 § Vallag.)
However, coupled with the party lists, in 1995 Sweden introduced the possibility to indicate support (personkryss) for a person listed further down on the party ballot, or even write-in a candidate using a party ballot without candidate’s names pre-printed. A recent example of this is when, in 2018, former national skier Thomas Wassberg got written-in and elected for the Swedish Democrats against his will. (He never assumed office.) Prior to the 1998 election, voters could only strike a candidate they did not like from the party’s candidate list. However, it was largely ineffective to affect the outcome.
Thus, in Sweden, a person cannot be elected to Parliament without either being part of a party or being a write-in candidate on a party ballot. Write-in candidates can refuse to serve if they have not chosen to stand for election.
Candidates to the Swedish Parliament must be 18 years old and Swedish citizens to be eligible for election. (3 ch. 4 § RF.)
2. Can a member of Parliament leave his or her party?
There is no law that prevents members of Parliament from leaving their party. Once elected they have an individual mandate to serve in Parliament. (3 ch. 1 § RF.)
As mentioned above, the party whip can be strong in Sweden, resulting in conflict and it is perhaps not surprising that members feel an urge to leave their party. One of the more known politicians to do so is former Left Party leader Gudrun Schyman, who in 2004 left her party while still a member of Parliament in order to pursue more feministic policies and then became a founding member of the feminist party, Feministiskt Initiativ. Members can also be excluded from their parties, as Amineh Kakabaveh (formerly Left Party) was in 2019.
3. What happens when a member leaves his or her party?
Because members serve as individuals, in effect, a party that loses a member of Parliament also loses mandates in the Parliament and relative power in the Parliament. Historically this has had little effect on politics, or the overall composition of the Parliament, but following the 2018 election when Parliament was split 175 to 174, the current unaffiliated member makes that number 174 to 174, which is why her vote matters more than it normally would.
4. Can a party force a member to leave Parliament?
No. Even though members are typically elected because of their relative placement on the member list of the ballot, the party cannot force a member to leave Parliament. Leaving a party affiliation or not showing up for work is not grounds for removing a member from Parliament. The rationale being that a member who does not fulfill his or her duties to their constituency is likely to lose his or her seat in Parliament in the next election.
In fact, a member of Parliament must receive leave from the speaker to leave Parliament (4 ch. 11 § RF.) As of January 1, 2022, Parliament will have some possibilities to reclaim pay for members of Parliament who are repeatedly absent during chamber votes. In addition, members of Parliament who are convicted of certain crimes must leave Parliament.
Specifically, chapter 4 section 11 of the Instrument of Government states that:
A member of the Riksdag or a deputy may not leave office without the Riksdag’s consent.
When there is reason to do so, the Election Review Board shall independently examine whether a member or a deputy is competent in accordance with ch. 4 § 2 para [meaning if the person has a right to vote in the national election to Parliament]. Anyone who is declared unauthorized is thus separated from his or her assignment.
A member or a deputy may otherwise be dismissed from the assignment only if he or she has proven to be manifestly unsuitable for the assignment through a crime. Decisions are made by the courts.
However, for a crime to be considered serious enough it must carry a sentence of two years imprisonment. (comp. 20 ch. 4 § Brottsbalken (SFS 1962:7700) (BrB).)
In addition, members of Parliament may seek and receive leave from Parliament, and nothing prevents party leadership to coax members who are unpopular with party leadership to apply for such leave. (5 ch. 3 § Riksdagsordningen (SFS 2014:801) (RO).) When members leave Parliament on their own, or because of a crime, a deputy member will fill in until a permanent replacement is selected. (5 ch. 6 § RO.)
5. How many members have left their parties while in Parliament?
Thirty-three members of Parliament have left their political parties while retaining their seats in Parliament. The party with the most vildar in history is the Swedish Democrats. In 2018 alone, a record eight members left the Swedish Democrats to become unaffiliated. Only the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats have not had at least one member leave the party.
6. Have there been proposals to forbid political unaffiliated members of Parliament?
Yes, including this year: Politiska vildar Motion 2020/21:1079 by Maria Stockhaus (M). However, the proposal was voted down on the grounds that each member of Parliament carries his or her responsibility towards the voters that elected them.
Another previous individual proposal includes recognizing the personal votes of a candidate only when that candidate has reached a certain – high – threshold of personal votes. Not surprisingly, the party (SD) that has had the greatest problem in retaining its members has also been the most vocal about changing the rules.
Additional Law Library of Congress Resources related to the Swedish Parliament
- Elin Hofverberg, Sweden: Opposition Budget Passed, Government Announces Extraordinary Election, Global Legal Monitor (Dec. 23, 2014)
- Law Library of Congress, National Parliaments (2016) (includes Sweden)
- Law Library of Congress, Parliamentary Oversight of the Executive Branch (2017) (includes Sweden)
- FALQs: The Swedish Budget Process (2018)
- Law Library of Congress, Regulation of Foreign Involvement in Elections (2019) (includes Sweden)
- Law Library of Congress, Continuity of Legislative Activities during Emergency Situations in Selected Countries (2020) (includes Sweden)
- 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Sweden (2021)
- FALQs: Swedish Government Formation – Votes of No Confidence and Extraordinary Elections (2021)
- Global Legal Monitor: Sweden
- Guide to Law Online: Sweden
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