Swedish history at a glance

The 17th century saw the rise of Sweden as one of Europe's great powers. At its peak in the middle of the 1700s, Sweden included, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and parts of northern Germany. The beginning of the end of the Swedish Empire was the Great Nordic Wars (1700-1721) in which Russia, Denmark-Norway and Poland allied to conquer Swedish territories. The extended period of territorial retrenchment culminated in Russia’s annexation of Finland in 1808-09. The victorious anti-Napoleonic coalition sought to compensate Sweden for its loss by transferring control over Norway from Denmark to Swedish authorities in 1824. Norway’s peaceful bid for independence in 1905 reduced Sweden to its present boundaries.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were marked by political and economic development. Liberal reforms relating to education, freedom of religion, and women’s rights, were introduced. Liberal demands to transform the archaic four-estate parliament into a more modern representative body resulted in the introduction of a bicameral Riksdag in 1865-66, and a parliamentary system of governance began to take form. Three major parties came about: the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Finally, the agrarian society was replaced by an industrialized society.

Sweden remained neutral in both World War I and World War II. The inter-war years were characterized by economic fluctuations combined with continued industrialization, urbanization and population growth. Politically, the period was somewhat chaotic and governments tended to be shortlived due to economic hardship. The "Swedish Model", a radical basic doctrine of a welfare state in which all inhabitants would always be guaranteed basic economic security in all stages of life, was introduced in the 1930s.The model was characterized by an active labour market policy, corporative structures (including centralized collective bargaining agreements and wage policy), tax-financed social services and general consensus on social democratic values. With the end of World War 2, Sweden experienced an economic boom as industry was intact and ready for producing the goods needed in a devastated Europe. By 1960 Sweden had become one of the most prosperous countries in the world. In the 1970s, growth was gradually reduced and the country had to start borrowing money to sustain consumption.

From the early part of the twentieth century through most of the 1980s, Sweden sustained a multiparty system consisting of five major parties: a small Left Party (VP), the far larger Social Democrats (SAP), the Liberals (FP), the agrarian-based Centre Party (C), and the Moderates (Conservatives, M). The Greens entered the Parliament in 1988. The parties form two loosely united blocs that facilitate both cabinet stability and legislative cooperation across party lines. The Swedish Social Democratic Worker’s Party (SAP) has been the dominant party since the 1930s, resulting in only four elections (1976, 1979, 1991 and 2006), which have not produced governments comprising the Social Democrats. 

Politics in the new era

Sweden forms a parliamentary representative democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The monarch serves as the head of state with largely ceremonial functions. Executive powers are vested in the cabinet comprising the prime minister and his/her ministers.

The 1991 election displayed discontent with the Social Democrats who lost 18 seats as compared to the previous election. Whereas SAP retained by far the largest group in parliament with 138 representatives (as compared to the second largest group of the Moderates which numbered 80 representatives), the election brought about a centre-right coalition government comprising the Moderates, the Liberal People's Party, the Christian Democrats (KD), and the Centre Party under the leadership of Carl Bildt. The Christian Democrats (established in the 1960s) was represented in parliament for the first time with 27 representatives. The election was also marked by the entry into parliament of New Democracy (NyD), a party frequently accused by its critics of being both xenophobic and racist. NyD won a total of 24 seats, all of which were lost in the following election organized in 1994.  

The Social Democrats re-assumed office and Carlsson was again appointed prime minister following the 1994 election. The Green Party, which was represented in the parliament for the first time in 1988 but unable to win any seats in 1991, re-occupied its position by taking 18 of the 349 seats.

In November 1994, 52.7 percent of the Swedes voted in favour of Swedish EU-membership. The subsequent European Parliament election held in 1995 was won by the Social Democrats closely followed by the Moderates, but the election was marked by low turnout: only 41.6 percent chose to cast their vote in the election. The turnout in the subsequent EP elections has remained low. In 2003, Swedish participation in the Monetary Union was rejected by 55.9 percent of the voters. The country remains military neutral but has signed NATO's "Partnership for Peace".
In 1996, Göran Persson took over as prime minister after Carlsson retired. Persson and the Social Democrats remained in office following the 1998 election in spite of losing 30 seats in the parliament. The election results led the Left Party and the Christian Democrats to increase their parliamentary groups by 21 and 27 representatives, respectively. In 2002, there were no significant changes between the two blocks. However, within the centre-right block, the Liberal Party benefited on the losses of the Moderates and the Christian Democrats. To the left, the Social Democrats won additional seats on behalf of the Left Party.

Following the September 2006 elections the so-called Alliance for Sweden comprising the Moderates, the Liberal People's Party, the Christian Democrats and the Centre Party emerged as election winner. A new government was subsequently formed under the leadership of Fredrik Reinfeldt, party leader of the Moderates.


Hancock, M. D., D.P Conradt, B.G. Peters, W. Safran, R. Zarinski (1998). Politics in Western Europe. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd.