The development of democracy in Sweden
It is approximately one hundred years since women and men were granted universal and equal suffrage, but the path to the advent of democracy started long before that. Here you can explore some of the parliamentary decisions, motions and government bills that have shaped our democracy, in chronological order. Important movements and other occurrences that have had a positive impact on the progress of democracy are also highlighted.
1809: Royal absolutism is abolished
After a period of royal absolutism, King Gustav IV Adolf is arrested in a coup d’état in March 1809. He is deposed by the Riksdag on 10 May, and the country finds itself in crisis. A new committee in the Riksdag, the Committee on the Constitution, is given the assignment of preparing a new constitution. The Committee works swiftly and intensively and the new Instrument of Government is adopted by the Riksdag’s four Estates on 6 June 1809. Now more power is transferred to the Riksdag.
Since 1983, Sweden’s national day has been celebrated on 6 June.
1842: Introduction of elementary school
The compulsory elementary school is introduced in Sweden so that all children will get an education. All parishes and towns must have a school with a qualified elementary school teacher. The state is responsible for teacher training.
1866: Introduction of the bicameral Riksdag
Until 1866, the Riksdag consisted of the four Estates: the Nobility, the Clergy, the Burghers and the Peasantry. One of the engines in the efforts to modernise the Riksdag is Louis De Geer who is Minister for Justice, a title that makes him the highest-ranking member of the Riksdag.
The old society based on the Estates has in practice disappeared and the idea is that the Riksdag should mirror society more accurately. The result is a parliament with two Chambers: the First Chamber and the Second Chamber. The Riksdag now starts to meet every year. However, there are still many people who can neither vote nor be elected to the Riksdag.
Just 6 per cent of the entire population has the right to vote, that is just over 20 per cent of the male population.
1884: The first private member’s motion on women’s suffrage
Fredrik Theodor Borg, 1825–1895, was an early proponent of women’s suffrage and the first member of the Riksdag to submit a motion on the subject in 1884.
1884: Age of majority for women is lowered
Swedish women have been regarded as legally incompetent for centuries. Only widows can be legally competent, as long as they do not remarry. But in 1858, the Riksdag adopts a decision that unmarried women can apply to the court to become legally competent from the age of 25. In 1865, they automatically become legally competent when they turn 25, and in 1884, the age is lowered to 21. However, this still only applies to unmarried women. When a woman marries, she is placed under the guardianship of her husband. Not until 1921 do married women also gain full legal competence, the same year as women are able to vote in the elections to the Riksdag for the first time.
1901: National military service is introduced for men
National military service is introduced for men between the ages of 18 and 47. A new slogan in the debate on the right to vote begins to be used: “One man – one gun – one vote!” When the government demands that all men should serve the nation, regardless of class or background, many people also feel that they should have the right to vote.
1902: General strike for universal and equal suffrage
Over 120,000 people strike in mid-May for the right to universal and equal suffrage to the Riksdag’s two Chambers. In order to win support for the right to vote, the compulsory military service is used as an argument – “One man – one gun – one vote!”. If you are expected to risk your life for your country, full civil rights with the right to vote should also be introduced.
1903: The National Association for Women’s Suffrage is established
At the beginning of the century, a proposal is presented in the Riksdag that married men should have two votes – one for themselves and one for their wives. Member of the Riksdag Carl Lindhagen replies that women should have their own vote, but the proposal is rejected. The proposal that married men should have two votes is provocative and is one reason for the start of the organised fight for women’s suffrage.
Women from the Fredrika Bremer Association gather to discuss the proposals and decide to form a seven-person committee in order to establish a women’s suffrage movement. A few months later, the Association for Women’s Political Right to Vote (FKRP) is founded, which changes name in 1903 to the National Association for Women’s Suffrage (LKPR). Leading figures include Anna Lindhagen, Lydia Wahlström and Anna Whitlock.
1909: The Riksdag decides that (almost) all men shall be given the right to vote
The Riksdag now decides to grant universal suffrage to men
- over the age of 24 who pay tax
- have done their military service
- have not been cared for in a poorhouse
- been in prison.
This applies to elections to the Second Chamber of the Riksdag. The undemocratically elected First Chamber remains in place.
1909: Women are given the right to vote and can stand for municipal elections
Following decisions in the Riksdag in 1907 and 1909, women can stand for elections in town and municipal councils.
The first woman to be elected to a town council is Gertrud Månsson. She is elected to Stockholm City, which is the city whose election results are conclusively counted first of all.
1911: The first election with universal suffrage for men
In September 1911, the first election with significantly extended voting rights for men and a proportional election system is held. Previously, just 9 per cent of the entire population were entitled to vote, but this now increases to 19 per cent. The reason this figure is not higher is that women are still excluded and the voting age is high. The requirement that male voters should have completed their military service and paid their taxes remains in place.
1912: The Government presents a proposal on women’s suffrage, which is rejected in the Riksdag
Karl Staaff’s Government presents the first ever bill on women’ suffrage and eligibility to stand for election to the Riksdag, but it is rejected in the First Chamber.
In the Second Chamber, the bill is approved with 140 votes for and 66 against, but in the First Chamber it is rejected with 86 votes against and 58 votes for, which means defeat for women’s suffrage.
1917: Breakthrough for parliamentary system of government
1917 marks the breakthrough for parliamentary government, that is the principle that the Government must enjoy the support of the Riksdag. In practice, the King loses his political power.
According to the 1809 Instrument of Government, the power is shared between the King and the Riksdag. The King’s task is to govern the country, and the ministers are his advisers.
In the autumn of 1917, King Gustav V and the incoming Prime Minister Nils Edén reach an agreement which becomes an important basis for Sweden’s continued path to democracy. In a conversation with Edén, the King promises not to intervene in the Government’s policies. Edén will govern the country with the support of the Riksdag, and without influence from the King’s opinions.
1918: Agreement on women’s suffrage
In the late autumn, the Government calls an extra meeting of the Riksdag. The purpose is to adjust the salaries of central government employees, which have fallen during the war years. There is unrest in Europe. World War I has recently come to an end, but revolutions have broken out in several parts of Europe. Concern that something similar will happen in Sweden increases, and there is heavy pressure to introduce universal and equal suffrage for both women and men.
Protracted negotiations go on all day and well into the night. Since the Riksdag has been called to an extra meeting, it cannot make a decision about women’s right to vote at the current meeting, but eventually reaches an agreement that a decision will be taken at the ordinary Riksdag the following year: Sweden is to introduce universal and equal suffrage.
1921: The Riksdag introduces the possibility of holding consultative referendums
Alongside universal suffrage, Sweden introduces the right to hold consultative referendums. The first such referendum is held in 1922, and the people of Sweden get to adopt a position on a much-debated issue: Should alcohol be prohibited?
After the prohibition vote, five more national referendums are held in Sweden: in 1955 on driving on the right, in 1957 on the national supplementary pension (ATP), in 1980 on nuclear energy, in 1994 on membership of the EU and in 2003 on the introduction of the euro.
Since 1980, several hundred consultative referendums have been held at the local level in municipalities, regions and county councils.
1921: The first democratic election to the Riksdag with universal and equal suffrage
In September 1921, both men and women can finally go to the polls and vote for the First and Second Chambers. Almost half of the women and 62 per cent of the men who are entitled to vote participate in the election in 1921.
1922: The first five women MPs enter the Riksdag
When the Riksdag opens in January 1922, five women enter as MPs for the first time. Women are now recognised as full political citizens. The five women represent different political ideologies.
Kerstin Hesselgren is a member of the Liberal Coalition Party and is the only woman elected to the First Chamber. Elisabeth Tamm is elected as a Liberal Coalition Party member to the Second Chamber. When the Liberal Coalition Party is divided into two parties a few years later, they both exclude themselves and call themselves independent members of parliament.
The other women in the Second Chamber are Social Democrats Agda Östlund and Nelly Thüring and Conservative Bertha Wellin.
1922: The requirement that men must have completed their military service to have the right to vote is abolished
The orderliness qualifications are gradually abolished. The requirement that men must have completed their military service to have the right to vote is abolished this year.
1937: Right to vote for interns in prisons and institutions
Now prisoners can also vote. 62 per cent of the population now enjoy the right to vote.
1944: Homosexual relations are legalised in Sweden
Homosexual relations are now made legal, but not until the late 1970s does the National Board of Health and Welfare cross homosexuality off the list of illnesses.
1945: The right to vote is further extended
Per Albin Hansson’s Government presents a proposal that removes more obstacles to the right to vote. Now people who have been declared bankrupt and who are on social allowances are given the right to vote.
At the same time, the voting age is lowered to 21, and the electorate expands. 68 per cent of the population now enjoy the right to vote.
1947: Karin Kock becomes Sweden’s first woman minister
Karin Kock, who was a Professor of Economics was first a minister without portfolio and then Minister of Supply in Tage Erlander’s Government. This means that she becomes Sweden’s first woman minister.
1948: The UN Declaration of Human Rights
The UN Declaration of Human Rights is said to be the most translated document in the world. The six pages of text have been translated into over 500 languages and dialects.
The Declaration consists of 30 articles and the first article reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
The Declaration contains conventions on economic, social and cultural rights, abolition of race discrimination and discrimination of women, etc.
The UN – United Nations – is established after World War II in 1945. Sweden becomes a member of the organisation in 1946. The Declaration is adopted by the General Assembly in Paris in 1948.
For the first time, half of the population participates in the election.
1949: A new Freedom of the Press Act is adopted
Sweden adopts the first Freedom of the Press Act in the world in 1766, and is followed by several other countries. In 1949, a new Freedom of the Press Act is adopted, which contains provisions on protection of sources and the beginnings of legal provisions on agitation against a national or ethnic group.
1951: Freedom of religion is extended
The Freedom of Religion Act from 1951 gives Swedish citizens the right to freely leave the Church of Sweden without joining another approved religious community. Government ministers are no longer required to identify themselves as Christian.
1953: The age of eligibility for the Riksdag’s First Chamber is lowered
The age of eligibility for the Riksdag’s First Chamber is lowered from 35 to 23.
1965: The voting age is lowered to 20
The voting age is now lowered to 20 years in Sweden.
1968: Expatriate Swedes are given the right to vote
Since 1968, all Swedish citizens with the right to vote who are living abroad have been entitled to vote in elections to the Riksdag, regardless of how long they have been living abroad.
1969: The voting age is lowered to 19
The voting age is now lowered to 19 years in Sweden.
1971: A unicameral Riksdag is introduced
Two major all-party commissions of inquiry in the 1950s and 1960s note that there are several democratic reasons in favour of a parliament with just one chamber. As of now, citizens can determine the composition of the Riksdag in one and the same election. The new electoral system means that the parties receive exactly the same share of seats as they do votes.
The rule that a party must have four per cent of the votes to be represented in the Riksdag dates from this time.
1971: Joint taxation is abolished
Instead, individual taxation is introduced in Sweden. Previously, spouses were taxed jointly. This means that the partner who earned the least in the marriage paid as much tax as the partner who earned the most. This means that it sometimes did not pay to work for the one with the lower income, often the woman in the family. The reform has been called “the biggest gender equality reform in half a century”.
1974: Sweden’s current Instrument of Government is introduced
The political power of the King, which has in practice been abolished, now disappears formally too.
1975: The voting age is lowered to 18
The Riksdag decides to lower the voting age from 19 to 18.
72 per cent of the population now enjoy the right to vote.
1976: Foreign citizens who are living in Sweden are granted the right to vote in municipal elections
In the 1960s and 1970s, a debate is launched on the possible right of foreign citizens to vote. In 1976, the rules for municipal elections are amended. The Riksdag notes that the right to vote in municipal elections for foreign citizens has democratic advantages. After having spent some time in the country, the opportunity to participate in general elections increases participation in society.
As of this year, people without Swedish citizenship can vote if they have lived in the municipality for at least three years. However, in elections to the Riksdag, requirements regarding Swedish citizenship still remain in place.
1977: Requirements in polling stations
Society starts to make greater demands to ensure that polling stations and public places should be accessible for people with disabilities.
1979: Sweden becomes the first country in the world to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children
The Riksdag adopts a prohibition on smacking or other forms of violence against children.
1985: 30 per cent women in the Riksdag
For the first time, the percentage of women in the Riksdag exceeds 30 per cent of the members.
1985: Karin Söder becomes Sweden’s first woman party leader
Karin Söder, who has previously served as both Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Health and Social Affairs succeeds Thorbjörn Falldin as Chair of the Centre Party.
1989: The term legally incompetent is removed from legislation
Individuals can no longer be declared legally incompetent. Previously a court could decide that a person who had reached the age of majority should be declared legally incompetent. This means that all Swedish citizens over the age of 18 now enjoy the right to vote.
74 per cent of the population now enjoy the right to vote.
1990: Sweden becomes a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child, is adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989, and Sweden becomes a party to the treaty the following year. The intention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to give all children, regardless of their background, the right to be treated with respect and to make themselves heard.
1991: The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression is adopted
The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression is adopted to protect the right to express oneself, for example, on the radio, television and Internet.
1991: The first woman Speaker
The Riksdag gets its first woman Speaker, Ingegerd Troedsson (1929-2012). She was a member of the Riksdag, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Affairs and Deputy Speaker before being elected Speaker.
1993: The Sami Parliament is established
The Sami Parliament is established with the purpose of protecting the interests of the Sami minority.
1995: Sweden becomes a member of the EU and participates in the elections to the European Parliament
In a referendum on Swedish membership of the EU, 52.3 per cent of the Swedes vote yes to membership, while 46.8 per cent vote no. Even though the referendum is consultative, there is political consensus that Sweden should observe the results.
Sweden becomes a member of the European Union in 1995. Sweden’s electorate are now able to vote in the election to the European Parliament and parts of the Riksdag’s legislative powers are transferred to the EU.
Personal preference voting is tested for the first time in the elections to the European Parliament in 1995 and the election to the Riksdag in 1998.
1999: Sweden recognises five national minorities
The Jews, Roma, Sami, Swedish Finns and Tornedalers are recognised as national minorities. Ten years later in 2009, the Act on Minorities and Minority Languages is adopted, guaranteeing special rights for national minorities.
2009: A new Discrimination Act is introduced
A new Discrimination Act is introduced to combat discrimination on grounds of gender, transgender identity or expression, ethnic origin, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age.
2018: One hundred years of democracy!
Sweden holds its twenty-ninth democratic elections to the Riksdag and we celebrate the advent of democracy one hundred years ago.
2020: The Convention on the Rights of the Child becomes Swedish law
From 1 January 2020, the courts are to take into account the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in cases concerning children.
2021: Sweden gets its first woman prime minister
The Riksdag approves the Speaker Andreas Norlén’s proposal to appoint Magdalena Andersson (Social Democratic Party) as prime minister, which means that Sweden gets its first woman prime minister.