General elections and referendums
General elections are held in Sweden every four years and are the ultimate proof that we live in a democracy. Elections are held at national, regional and local levels to the Riksdag (Swedish parliament), county councils and municipal councils respectively.
In the elections, voters choose their representatives in the decision-making assemblies for the next term of office.
All Swedish citizens who have reached the age of 18 on or before election day and who are currently or were previously resident in the country may vote in general elections and referendums. Citizens of EU member states, Norway and Iceland who are registered as resident in Sweden and who have reached the age of 18 on or before election day are eligible to vote in municipal and county council elections. Non-Swedish citizens from other countries must have been registered as resident in Sweden for more than three consecutive years before election day to be eligible to vote in municipal and county council elections.
Elections to the European Parliament
Every fifth year elections are held in Sweden, as in other EU member states, to the European Parliament, the only directly elected EU institution. In this country, all citizens of EU member states who are registered as resident in Sweden may vote in these elections.
A referendum means that the electorate votes on a specific political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.
In a representative democracy, citizens usually govern indirectly by choosing representatives in elections who, for a limited period, take decisions on their behalf on how the country is run. Referendums on the other hand are a form of direct democracy and are sometimes used as a complement to the representative system. There are many kinds of referendums and they may be used in different ways, occurring at both central and local government levels. An essential difference between different types of referendums is how they are initiated and by whom. A distinction is usually made between popular initiatives on the one hand and institutional initiatives on the other.
Just as the term suggests, a popular initiative means that citizens themselves are eligible to initiate a referendum. A referendum of this type comes about when one or more people collect a sufficient number of signatures requesting a referendum be held in a specific question.
In most countries, however, referendums are held following an institutional initiative. This may either be statutory or optional. In this context, a statutory referendum means that a referendum must be held on certain issues under the countrys constitution. An optional, facultative initiative comes from an elected assembly (in Sweden the Riksdag, county council or municipal council) from case to case when there is a need to sound out public opinion on a particular issue.
A referendum may be either consultative, which means that it is not binding and leaves those in power free to make a decision contrary to the outcome of the referendum, or decisive which means the outcome is directly binding. In other words, there are several different combinations of referendums. They may either be top-down or bottom-up initiatives, be consultative or binding and, in addition, be organised both nationally and locally.