The development of democracy – year by year

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.
  • 1810: The Act of Succession
    A fundamental law determining the succession to the throne in Sweden. In 1810, the Riksdag chose the French Marshall Jean Baptiste Bernadotte as the heir to the throne after Karl XIII, who was childless. For many years thereafter the throne could only be inherited, according to the Act of Succession, by Bernadotte's male heirs, but in 1978 and 1979 the Riksdag decided to amend the Act of Succession so that women could also inherit the throne. When the amendment came into force in 1980, Princess Victoria, who was born in 1977, became Sweden's Crown Princess.
    Amendments to fundamental law can only be made after two identically worded decisions by the Riksdag, with a parliamentary election in between.
  • 1810: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen is established
    Sweden is the first country in the world to establish an Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen. This is a body to which citizens can turn with complaints about public authorities. The first Parliamentary Ombudsman was called Lars Augustin Mannerheim.
  • 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 of 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 of 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.
  • 1872: Married women are given the right to decide over their economy
    At this time women are of age from the age of 25, but when they get married they became legally incompetent, with their husband as their guardian. From 1872, all married women are granted the right to decide over their own income.
  • 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.
  • 1890: The Swedish General Suffrage Association is established
    The Swedish General Suffrage Association is now established. The primary aim is to promote men's right to vote, but the Association is open to everyone. Liberals are the driving force within the Association. The Association organises People's Parliaments. These are big meetings with selected participants from different classes and professions in society. During the meetings, campaigns, strikes and arguments are planned with the purpose of gaining support for universal and equal suffrage in elections to the Riksdag.
  • 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: Major 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 citizenship 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 and have not been cared for in a poorhouse, or 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.

    Another woman is Elisabeth Tamm, who starts her political career as a municipal politician. She promotes social issues and, as the owner of the Fogelstad Manor, also land-use issues. Elisabeth Tamm is Deputy Chair of the Julita rural district meeting of 1913 and becomes Sweden's first woman Chair of a municipal council (Julita) in 1916. In 1922, Elisabeth Tamm becomes one of the first five women in the Riksdag.
  • 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's suffrage and eligibility 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.
  • 1914: The Farmers’ Demonstration and the Palace Yard Crisis
    After the 1911 election, Karl Staaff becomes Prime Minister and forms a government. Staaff wants to curb defence expenditure and instead invest in social benefits in order to improve people's quality of life. At the same time, unrest is growing in Europe.

    The Government decides to postpone increases in defence expenditure in the form of the construction of an armoured ship. This means that a decision from a previous government is torn up. This generates heavy criticism from right-wing politicians and the King, but also protests from the people. Pro-defence associations are formed, and campaigns organised. These culminate with the Farmers’ Demonstration, when 30,000 demonstrators show their support for the King, who is a strong advocate of a strong defence.

    In a speech in the palace yard, the King expresses his support for the people, and renounces the current Government's defence policies. This leads to the resignation of Karl Staaff as Prime Minister.

    In Staaff's opinion, the King is in breach of the Constitution with his speech. However, based on the wording of the Instrument of Government of 1809, King Gustaf V is not doing anything wrong, but his actions conflict with current practice.

    The principle of parliamentary government suffers a defeat.
  • 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, and Sweden has a government which is led by a prime minister.

    After the elections to the Second Chamber in 1917, the Liberals and Social Democrats form a government together, against the wishes of the King. The leader of the Liberals Nils Edén becomes Prime Minister. Social Democratic Hjalmar Branting becomes Minister for Finance. It is clear that the King can no longer influence the formation of government. As of now, it is natural that the majority in the Riksdag decides who is to form a government and it is the government that governs the country.
  • 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.
  • 1919: The first decision on women's suffrage in the Riksdag
    A decision is finally taken in the Riksdag on women's suffrage after a long, hard battle. 24 May is a date that is celebrated by many of the local suffrage associations around the country. Sweden is the last Nordic country to introduce universal and equal suffrage.
  • 1920: The last parliamentary elections with suffrage only for men
    On 28 September 1920, the last parliamentary elections were held in Sweden with voting rights for men only. The main task of the Riksdag that was elected was to repeat the previous Riksdag decision to introduce universal and equal suffrage. In order to bring about a change in the Constitution it was necessary, just as it is today, for two identical decisions to be taken in the Riksdag with general elections taking place in between.
  • 1921: The second decision on women's suffrage in the Riksdag
    On 26 January, the Riksdag takes its second decision on women's suffrage. Married women who have previously been under their husbands’ guardianship now become legally competent at the age of 21. 54 per cent of the population have the right to vote in 1921.
  • 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 “marks of orderliness” are gradually abolished. The requirement that men must have completed their military service to have the right to vote is abolished this year.
  • 1933: The requirements regarding income and property for the First Chamber are removed
    This year, the eligibility requirements for the First Chamber are changed. Now the only requirement is that candidates have reached the age of 35. Requirements regarding income and ownership of property of a certain tax assessment value are abolished.
  • 1935: Equal pension
    As a result of the 1935 Pension Act, men’s and women’s pensions are to be calculated in the same way and the retirement age becomes gender neutral – 67 years for both women and men.
  • 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.
  • 1946: Demands for equal pay
    All the women members of the Riksdag agree to submit a motion in which they demand that salaries are paid on the basis of achievement rather than gender.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 1950: Sweden signs the European Convention
    Sweden is one of the first countries to sign the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The European Convention is signed in November 1950 in Rome, Italy, by the member states of the Council of Europe.
  • 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.
  • 1960: Equal pay for equal work
    The social partners agree to abolish the “women’s salaries” and to accede to the International Labour Organization’s Equal Remuneration Convention.
  • 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.

    In the 2018 elections, 149,000 Swedes with the right to vote were registered as living in other countries, and approximately 30 per cent of them voted in the elections.
  • 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.
  • 1974: Parental insurance is introduced
    Parents are given the right to share a period of parental leave in connection with the child’s birth. The previous insurance introduced in 1931 only applied to mothers.
  • 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: Accessibility 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.
  • 1980: Act on equal opportunities in working life and the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman are introduced
    The new act prohibits gender discrimination in working life, and a new authority – the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman – is established to ensure compliance with the law.
  • 1983: All occupations open for women
    All positions in the armed forces are now open to women too.
  • 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.
  • 1994: The “every other one for the ladies” campaign
    The “every other one for the ladies” campaign during the election campaign leads to over 40 per cent of the elected members of the Riksdag being women.
  • 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.
  • 1995: Personal preference voting is tested for the first time
    The voters can now indicate on the ballot paper which candidate they wish to get into the Riksdag. The idea is to give voters a greater opportunity to influence which members represent them in the Riksdag.
    Personal preference voting is tested for the first time in the European Parliamentary Elections in 1995 and the election to the Riksdag in 1998.
  • 1999: Sweden recognises five national minorities
    The Jews, the Roma, the Sami, the Swedish Finns and the Tornedalers are recognised as national minorities.
  • 2001: The Act on equal opportunities in working life is enhanced
    Every year employers are to survey and analyse salaries and employment conditions in order to identify unreasonable differences between women and men who perform equal work. The results of the survey are to be presented in an action plan for equal pay.
  • 2005: Legislation against gender discrimination
    In accordance with three EU directives, a more stringent prohibition is introduced against discrimination, among other things in the social insurance system, for membership of trade unions and in trade in products, services and housing.
  • 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.
  • 2011: The Instrument of Government is revised
    The Instrument of Government is revised, which means, among other things, greater protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference and from infringements of personal privacy.
  • 2018: The Consent Act is introduced
    Under this law, it is prohibited to have sex with a person who has not explicitly said yes or actively shown that they wish to participate. The requirement that the perpetrator has used violence or threats is removed.
  • 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.
  • 2022: Celebrate Democracy!
    In January it will be 100 years since the first five women stepped into Parliament and the Swedish Parliament has celebrated one hundred years of democracy between 2018 and 2021.