Sweden has been a constitutional monarchy since 1720 and a parlimentary democracy effective since 1917. Sweden's present form of government is based on 4 fundamental laws. The Riksdag Act and the Instrument of Government, wich were enacted in 1974 and took effect in January 1975, are, in effect, a new constitution, replacing the constitution of 1809. They define the authority of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The act of succession of 1810, amended in 1979 to permit a woman to reign as monarch, provides for succession to the throne. The press act of 1949 forbids any form of censorship. Modifications of these four acts may be made only with the approval of two successive sessions of the legislature, with a general election held in between.
The crown is hereditary in the direct line of the house of Bernadotte, and both males and females have equal rights of succession. Formerly the king was nominal head of government, as well as head of state. In practice since 1918 the king has had no say in making policy, and actual executive power rests with the prime minister and the other cabinet members, who are responsible to parliament. The constitution of 1975 transferred the power to name the prime minister to the speaker of the parliament. The Riksdag, or parliment, had two chambers of equal status until 1971. The first chamber, with 151 members, was elected by the county councils; the second chamber, with 233 members, was directly elected. Since 1971 the Riksdag has had only one chamber, whose 349 members are elected directly on the basis of proportional representation (with a minimum of 4% of votes cast required for representation) for a term of up to 4 years. All Swedes aged 18 or older may vote or stand for election. Members are well paid, and parliamentary sessions normally run from early October to June. The Riksdag must approve all bills, has sole control of taxation, and, through its 15 standing committees, on which representatives of all major parties sit, has considerable influence on public policy. The Riksdag also appoints the governors of the Bank of Sweden. Government policy-making is in the hands of 13 deparments directed by cabinet ministers. Swedish departments are small and focus on planning and budgeting, while daily administration is handled by some 50 agencies headed by directors general.
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Sweden has a tradition of strong local government. There are 24 counties (läner) subdivided into 286 municipalities (kommuner); the city of Stockholm combines the functions of both a county and a municipality. On both levels, government is carried out by a council that is elected every 4 years (every three years until 1994), with an executive committee handing day to day affairs. County governors are appointed by the central government but are largely symbolic. The counties spend almost three fourths of their budget on health care; municipalities devote about one half to education and social services. The local governments employ about 1.1 million people (95% of all public employees), and their budgets amount to 25% of the country's gross domestic product. Their revenues come from county and local income taxes and revenue transfers from the central government.
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Since 1914, the Social Democratic Party has won more directly elected Riksdag seats than any other party, and alone or at the head of a coalition ruled Sweden almost continuously from 1932 to 1976. From 1946 to 1969 Tage Fritjof Erlander was party leader and prime minister; he has been called the architect of Swedenäs social welfare state. Upon his retirement, Erlander succeeded in 1969 by Olof Palme, who was prime minister until 1976 and again as head of a Social Democratic minority government from 1982. Palme was assassinated in 1986; Ingvar Carlsson then lead the party until its electoral defeat in 1991 and bought it back to power at the head of a minority government in 1994. The Social Democrats have strong ties with the labor movement (about 90% of all Swedish workers belong to a union), and their pragmatism allows them to gain support from other parties. In 1991 they suffered their worst defeat in half a century, drawing only 38% of the vote, but in 1994 they again drew their typical 45%.
The Moderate Party, founded in 1904 as the Conservative Party, advocates privatization of some state-owned enterprise and in the early 1990's gained support from outside its traditional stronghold of big business. It participated in nonsocialist coalition governments from 1976 to 1981, and its leader, Carl Bildt, was Sweden's prime minister from 1991 to 1994, the first Moderate in the post since 1930. The party's support was between 18% and 24% of the vote in the period from 1979 to 1994.
The Center Party, formerly known as the Farmers' Union, or the Agrarians, represents rural and agricultural interests. The party adopted its present name in 1958 to strengthen its appeal to a broader, middle-class constituency, retaining its belief in the need to decentralize the nation's economic and political power. It has at times lead the antinuclear movement in Sweden. Party leader Thorbjörn Fälldin was prime minister from 1976 to 1978 and from 1979 to 1982 in nonsocialist coalitions. Support for the Center Party fell from 18% in 1979 to around 9% in 1991, when it joined the government. Its support declined further to 8% in 1994, and the party turned toward the Social Democrats in the spring of 1995.
The Liberal Party, founded in 1900, draws most of its strength from the middle-income groups. It has traditional ties with the temperance movement and the nonconformist churches and is more powerfully represented in the press than other parties. Its motto has been "social responsibility without socialism." Support varied considerably as larger parties won and lost votes; the Liberals won 6% of the vote in 1982, 14% in 1985, and 9% in 1991, when they joined the government, but won only 7% in 1994.
The Left Party was founded in 1917 as the Left Social Democratic Party, a Marxist group; it became the Communist Party in 1921, the Left Party-Communist after a split in 1967, and adopted its present name in 1990. It draws support from some workers in the largest citiesand from among the poorer rural population in the northern provinces. The support of the Left Party has often been crucial to the Social Democrats' governments. Its share of the vote was steady, around 6% in the 1980's, falling a point in 1991, but rising again to 6% in 1994.
New parties arose as Sweden's concensus over welfare entitlements and immigration eroded. The Christian Democrats, founded in 1964 but winning no Riksdag seats until 1985, leapt to 7% of the vote and 26 seats in 1991. They joined the government for the first time but lost much of their support in 1994 and took only 15 seats. The Green (Milieu) was founded in 1981 to promote environmental concerns and took 20 seats (6% of the vote) in 1988, before other parties adopted a more pro-environment line. They lost all of their seats in 1991 but returned with 18 seats in 1994. New Democracy, a rightist populist group, first ran in 1991 and took 25 seats (7% of the vote) but were excluded from the center-right government. Support for the party collapsed to just over 1% of the vote in 1994.
To attain seats in the Riksdag, a party must gain 4% of the vote nationally or, failing this, 12% in one constituency. By a law in effect since 1966, all Swedish political parties with at least one seat in the Riksdag and 2% of the vote in the most recent election national are entitled to subsidies from the state.
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Swedish law is based on the national legal code enacted in 1734, but most of this code has been superseded by later legislation. Judicial proceedures are similar to those in British and U.S. courts except that juries are employed only in press libel cases and in lower court criminal cases. In these cases judges are assisted by panels of from two to five lay assessors elected by urban or rural councils for 3 years. The lay assessors may overrule the judges' verdict and have a say in sentencing. There are 97 district courts, 6 courts of appeal, and a supreme court. There are also special courts that deal with real estate and tenancy disputes, and administrative matters. A procurator for civil affairs (Justitieombudsman) along with three other ombudsmen are appointed by the Riksdag to investigate charges of misconduct against judges and civil servants, to supervise the courts, and to protect the rights of military personnel. An attorney general (Justitiekansler) acts for the government. The death penalty was abolished in 1921 except for certain crimes committed in time of war.
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Swedish foreign policy is one of strict neutrality and nonalignment with any power bloc. Sweden has played an important part in many international organizations, especially the United Nations. Swedish troops have taken part in UN peace-keeping operations in Africa and the Far and Middle East. Sweden's closest ties are with the other Scandinavian countries through the Nordic Council. Sweden is also a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Council of Europe; it was an original member of the European Free Trade Association. Following approval in a national referendum in 1994, it joined the European Union in 1995. Sweden long placed strong emphasis on relations with the new nations of Africa and Asia, committing 1% of its national income for development assistance every year, less after 1991. The Swedish government has expressed willingness to review its neutrality in the context of integration into Europe.
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Strict neutrality has dictated a high degree of military preparedness. Sweden had almost 65,000 men under arms in 1993, and reservists numbered about 730,000. All male citizens from ages 18 to 47 must serve in the armed forces for at least 7½ months and take refresher courses every 4 years. About 40,000 conscripts are drafted each year, most of them for the army, which has a professional cadre of 16,000 officers and men. In 1993 the navy included 12 submarines, 34 fast missile or torpedo boats, and 25 minesweepers. The air force had about 400 combat aircraft of Swedish design and manufacture, the most modern being Saab JA37 Viggen supersonic all-weather fighters; in the mid-1990's they were being replaced by J39 Gripen fighters. Sweden's famous urban civilian defense preparations reflect a concept of "total defense," which has begun to be reshaped for the post-cold war. The defense budget amounted to 2.6% of the country's gross domestic product in 1992.
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