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.
Key Developments in 2018:
- A general election was held in September in which neither the center-right nor the center-left bloc won a majority in the parliament. The populist, anti-immigrant party, Sweden Democrats, won 62 seats. Parties in both main blocs refused to form a coalition government with Sweden Democrats, and the impasse had not been resolved by year’s end.
- In late September, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of the Social Democratic Party (SAP) lost a vote of no confidence in the parliament, but pledged to continue as prime minister until a coalition government was formed. After lengthy negotiations, in December, the parliament rejected another attempt by Löfven to form a government
- In August, a court ordered a translation company to pay a Muslim woman $4,500, after finding that it discriminated against her during a 2016 job interview that abruptly ended when she declined to shake a male employee’s hand for religious reasons.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 40 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
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 2014 following parliamentary elections, and formed a minority government with the Green Party. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is the ceremonial head of state.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
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 representation. Swedish elections are broadly free and fair.
In the September 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, won 62 seats, up from 49 previously. However, the party’s gains fell short of the expectations of many analysts. Parties in both the center-right and center-left blocs refused to form a coalition government with the Sweden Democrats. In late September, Prime Minister Löfven lost a vote of no confidence in the parliament, but pledged to continue in his role until a coalition government was formed. After lengthy negotiations, in December, the parliament rejected another attempt by Löfven to form a government.
A report published in November 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.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
Elections are regulated by the Swedish Election Authority, which effectively upholds its mandates.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. 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 / 4
Political parties may form and operate without restriction. Eight political parties gained representation in the Riksdag in 2018, with the SAP, the Moderates, and the Sweden Democrats holding the most seats.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Sweden has a strong multiparty system with a robust opposition.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
People’s political choices are generally free from domination by actors that are not democratically accountable.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
The country’s principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in the parliament, as are many women. 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.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 12 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
Sweden’s freely elected representatives develop and implement policy. The strong performance by the far-right Sweden Democrats in the 2018 parliamentary elections, and the refusal of both the center-right bloc and center-left bloc to work with the party, contributed to the failure to form a functioning government by the end of the year.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4
Corruption is relatively low in Sweden. Anticorruption mechanisms are generally effective. The country’s lively free press also works to expose corrupt officials. However, Sweden has faced some criticism for insufficient enforcement of foreign bribery laws.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4
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.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 60 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
Sweden’s media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and 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 increased in recent years, particularly against those who report on organized crime, religion, extremist groups, or other sensitive topics. In August 2018, a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi party, was arrested for plotting to kill two journalists with Mittmedia, a large media group. In September, the suspect was convicted of illegally possessing firearms, but acquitted of the more serious charge of preparing to commit murder.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. State authorities document religion-based hate crimes, investigate and prosecute cases, and provide adequate resources for victims. The police force includes a permanent unit trained to handle hate crimes.
In August 2018, a court ordered a translation company to pay a Muslim woman $4,500, after finding that it discriminated against her during a 2016 job interview that abruptly ended when she declined to shake a male employee’s hand for religious reasons. The court ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights protected the woman’s right to refuse a handshake on religious grounds.
Anti-Semitic attacks have occurred in recent years, including a Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue in Gothenburg in late 2017. Three people were arrested in connection with the incident; in June, all three suspects were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to two years.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
Private discussion is open and vibrant.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
Freedom of assembly is generally respected in law and in practice. However, violence has occasionally erupted between far-right demonstrators and counterprotesters.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations of all kinds function freely.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
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.
F. RULE OF LAW: 16 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The judiciary is independent.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4
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.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4
Following a 2017 attack in which a man drove a truck through central Stockholm and into a department store, killing 5 people and wounding 10 others, the government introduced new antiterrorism measures. 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.
In August 2018, groups of masked youths set fire to approximately 100 cars in western Sweden, mainly in Gothenburg, in what appeared to be coordinated attacks.
Conditions in prisons and temporary detention facilities are adequate, but concerns have been raised about excessive use of long detention periods. Changes to the law regarding detention have been proposed in the parliament. Swedish courts have jurisdiction to try suspects for genocide committed abroad.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 4 / 4
The Swedish state works to ensure equal protection and rights for all members of the population. An equality ombudsman oversees efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of 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 August 2018, a “cis-man-free” music festival was held in Gothenburg, which was advertised as an event open to women, transgender people, and nonbinary people. The festival was founded to create a safe space for women after a series of rapes at music festivals in 2017. In December, the ombudsman found the festival guilty of discrimination for its exclusionary advertising, though no penalties were assessed.
In 2017, in the wake of growing right-wing sentiment and increasing immigration from abroad, 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
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 16 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
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.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
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.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4
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. The Lutheran Church allows same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The United Nations has criticized Sweden for not doing enough to prevent domestic violence against women and children. Despite its status as a model for gender equality, Sweden suffers from persistently high levels of rape and sexual assault. To address the issue, the parliament passed a groundbreaking law in May 2018 which legally recognizes that sex without consent amounts to rape. The law distinguishes Sweden from most other European countries, which continue to legally define rape in terms of force, threats, and coercion.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4
People in Sweden generally enjoy equality of opportunity. Women earn the equivalent of 95.5 percent of men’s wages when differences in age, sector, and experience are taken into account. However, unemployment is higher among immigrants than it is among people who were born in Sweden.
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 municipal-level antitrafficking working groups and action plans. Nevertheless, the United Nations has pointed out that Sweden lacks robust methods to prevent individuals, especially unaccompanied immigrant children, from falling victim to human trafficking. According to the US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, Sweden does not sufficiently screen migrants to identify trafficking victims.