Sweden is a parliamentary monarchy with free and fair elections and a strong multiparty system. Civil liberties and political rights are legally guaranteed and respected in practice, and the rule of law prevails. Recent challenges include increases in violent crime and reported hate crimes.
- In June, Parliament ousted Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of the Swedish Social Democrats (SAP) in the first successful no-confidence vote in Swedish history. However, Löfven was reelected in July by a two-vote margin. He then resigned in November and SAP leader Magdalena Andersson was installed as the prime minister, the first woman to hold the post.
- Violent crime remains a concern, with authorities recording a historic high in the rate of gun violence. By October, there had been 110 shootings, in which at least 21 people were killed. In September, an explosion in a Gothenburg apartment block injured more than 20 people.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The prime minister is the head of government and is appointed by the speaker of the freely elected parliament, or Riksdag, and confirmed by the body as a whole. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of the SAP was appointed in 2019 following parliamentary elections in 2018. In June 2021, Parliament ousted Löfven in the first successful no-confidence vote in Swedish history. However, Löfven was reelected in July by a two-vote margin. He then resigned in November and SAP leader Magdalena Andersson was installed as the prime minister, the first woman to hold the post.
King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is ceremonial head of state.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The unicameral Riksdag is comprised of 349 members who are elected every four years by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide or 12 percent in an electoral district to win a seat. Swedish elections are broadly free and fair.
In the 2018 parliamentary elections, neither main bloc won a majority, with the center-left bloc winning 144 seats and the center-right bloc winning 143 seats. The populist, anti-immigrant party, Sweden Democrats (SD), won 62 seats, up from 49 previously. In 2019, after over four months without a government, the SAP formed a coalition with the Green Party, the Centre Party, and the Liberals.
A 2018 report by election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) stated that although the integrity of the elections was not in doubt, the secrecy of the vote was sometimes compromised.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Elections are regulated by the Swedish Election Authority, which effectively upholds its mandates. The Election Authority is headed by a government-appointed committee. Members of the board are appointed for a specific period and are not political appointments.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties may form and operate without restriction.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Sweden has a strong multiparty system with a robust opposition. Eight political parties secured representation in the Riksdag in 2018.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from domination by actors that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
The range of Sweden’s religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in the parliament, as are many women. There are 161 women (out of 349 members) in Parliament; however, some parties maintain more gender parity than others. Magdalena Andersson became the first woman to be prime minister in November 2021. Since 1993, the Indigenous Sami community has elected its own legislature, which has significant powers over community education and culture, and serves as an advisory body to the government. There are calls for greater political autonomy of the Sami Parliament.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Sweden’s freely elected representatives develop and implement policy.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
Corruption is relatively low in Sweden, and anticorruption mechanisms are generally effective. The country’s lively free press also works to expose corrupt officials. Sweden’s wide-reaching transparency and access to public administration information policy helps to safeguard against corruption.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
The country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world, and state authorities generally respect the right of both citizens and noncitizens to access public information.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Sweden’s media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and media ownership is extremely concentrated in the hands of a small group of individuals. The government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. Public broadcasters air weekly radio and television programs in several minority languages. Threats and intimidation of journalists have been reported, particularly against those who report on organized crime, religion, extremist groups, or other sensitive topics. In a 2021 government survey, 67 percent of women journalists and 41 percent of men journalists reported experiencing online hate speech and abuse.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected, with the state recording and investigating such crimes. The police force includes a permanent unit trained to handle hate crimes. However, religiously motivated hate crimes often go unreported. The UN Universal Periodic Review of Sweden in 2020 highlighted numerous such incidents, mainly targeting at Muslims and Jews. In March 2021, the government adopted several measures to address hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Private discussion is open and vibrant.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is generally respected in law and in practice. To tackle rising COVID-19 infections, Sweden introduced an emergency lockdown law in January 2021, which allowed the government to restrict the number of people in shops, businesses, and public places, and the previous year had banned gatherings of more than 50 people. However, most restrictions have since been removed.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations of all kinds function freely.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
The rights to strike and organize in labor unions are guaranteed. Trade union federations, which represent approximately 70 percent of the workforce, are strong and well organized.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent under its constitution. Around 70 percent of the population perceives its courts to be independent. Permanent judges are appointed by the government following proposals by the Judges Proposal Board. A permanent judge cannot be dismissed other than in specific instances of corruption or other wrongdoing. Every district court, court of appeal, administrative court, and administrative court of appeal has lay judges. Lay judges are appointed at the local level and are nonpolitical, though they are appointed by political parties.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The rule of law prevails in civil and criminal matters. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the state must provide legal counsel to people accused of criminal offenses.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
While Sweden is free from large-scale insurgencies, rising street violence has emerged as a growing concern. Deadly shootings, arson attacks, and explosions caused by hand grenades have taken place in many Swedish cities in recent years, mainly in poor neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. By October of 2021, there had been 110 shootings, in which at least 21 people were killed. Though the government announced measures in September 2020 to reduce the violence, including granting police increased search and surveillance powers, the problem has persisted. An explosion in September 2021 in a Gothenburg apartment block injured more than 20 people. Recent statistics also show an increasing number of homicides committed using a firearm.
The government introduced new antiterrorism measures following a 2017 terrorist attack. The law focused on tighter security in public places, greater information sharing between government agencies, and tighter controls on individuals deemed to pose a security threat.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||4.004 4.004|
The Swedish state works to ensure equal protection and rights for all members of the population. An equality ombudsman oversees efforts to prevent discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation. However, the United Nations has called for the ombudsman’s powers to be strengthened and has noted problems with discrimination by police and correctional personnel.
In 2017, the Swedish government voted to place limits on parental leave benefits for immigrants. In 2016, the parliament passed a law that tightened restrictions on asylum seekers, which included limiting family reunification.
In recent years, multiple reports of members of the Sweden Democrats and other parties making antisemitic and anti-Muslim remarks have emerged. Jewish and Muslim community leaders in Sweden have claimed that the far-right is an indirect but real threat to their communities. Government data shows 7,090 offences with an identified hate crime motive in 2018—the most recent year with statistics available—of which 4,865 had a xenophobic or racist motive.
The UN’s 2020 Universal Periodic Review for Sweden expressed concern over reports of police profiling of members of minority groups, as well as the lack of explicit legal provisions prohibiting organizations that promote and incite racial hatred. There are persistent accusations of structural racism within Sweden.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement is legally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. However, asylum seekers may be assigned to a place of residence, and at times may be forced to change locations. Sweden continues to maintain checkpoints on its external borders that were instituted during the 2015 refugee crisis. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended nonessential travel to Sweden from countries outside of the European Union (EU) in 2020. The ban did not include those who held a Swedish residency permit or those who had family who are residents in Sweden. The ban has been lifted for EU countries but remains in place for most non-EU countries as of December 2021.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
The government respects the rights of individuals to own property and establish private businesses. A 2011 Supreme Court ruling granted Sami reindeer herders common-law rights to disputed lands.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Same-sex couples are legally allowed to marry and adopt; lesbian couples have the same rights to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples. An individual can legally change their gender identity, though doing so requires a medical assessment.
There are persistently high levels of rape and sexual assault in the country. In 2018, a law was introduced changed the definition of rape to be based on consent. By 2020 rape conviction rates in Sweden had increased by 75 percent.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||4.004 4.004|
People in Sweden generally enjoy equality of opportunity. However, unemployment is higher among immigrants, and particularly immigrant women, than it is among people who were born in Sweden. The United Nations has also noted that the performance gap between foreign-born and native-born children in school remains high.
Sweden is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but the Swedish government is proactive in combatting the problem. The government has established antitrafficking working groups and action plans at municipal levels. Nevertheless, the UN has pointed out that Sweden lacks robust methods to prevent individuals, especially unaccompanied immigrant children, from falling victim to human trafficking.
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