Friday, November 02, 2007

Part 4: The effect of the constitution in Sweden

Why does Denmark have the Danish People's Party (DPP), and Sweden the Sweden Democrats (SD)? Do the differences between the parties and their history reflect upon the people who gather around them and vote for them today? Or do the differences rather reflect how all-embracing the power of the PC system is in the country that they sprung from? I claim that it's the latter, and that both parties fill the same need, and people who look to the DPP or SD today do it for the same reason. The situation and the needs are the same in all Western European countries. And this need is fulfilled by nationalist/anti-establishment parties in each country. Some parties are easy to defend and carry no bad historical baggage, such as DPP, while others, such as SD, we really wish had a different history.

Why these differences? This post will take a look at one aspect of this. The difference in constitutions, here compared between Sweden and Denmark.
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A constitution is like a contract. When things are going fine, and everybody agree, we don't need them. But in the history of a country there will be crucial times, when it will matter a lot if its constitution is written in a robust way, or is rather just a collection of beautiful words. An interesting case study is to compare the Danish and the Swedish constitutions.

We all know that if an event hasn't been covered on TV, it's as if it didn't happen at all. An if it's neither covered by the news papers, it surely never really happened (even if it took place outside of the bubble).

In the Danish constitution, to start a new party requires 20,000 citizens signing a petition. Once that requirement is achieved the Danish constitution guarantees the following:

  • The party is listed on the official ballot paper
  • The party gets a presentation program at Danish TV
  • The party gets to participate in the final election debate
In Sweden there is no official ballot paper listing all the participating parties. Instead each party has their own ballot paper, and the voter votes by putting the ballot paper of the party he elects in an envelope. He may also just write the name of a party on a blank ballot paper. While in Denmark, with their system, they normally have around 10 parties participating, in the last Swedish election votes were registered for 565 different parties, most of which doesn't exist. The winner among the handwritten votes is always the Donald Duck party (Kalle Anka partiet).

But never mind the handwritten votes, there were still 41 parties participating with preprinted ballot papers, most of which received less than 1,000 votes. Who will decide in the Swedish system which of them that will get to present themselves on TV, and to participate in election debates on TV? In Denmark a party gets this guaranteed by the constitution, i.e. the decision is left to the people. 20,000 signatures means around 0.5% of the electorate. This is a very wise and well thought-through constitution, for a multi-party system, providing real political power to the people; a system with checks and balances.

So who decides in Sweden who will participate in presentations/debates on TV? Obviously all the 41 parties cannot participate. By tradition the parties that are represented in parliament participates, and nobody would accept otherwise. But among the new parties, which will participate? And who will decide?

The answer is the the whole power of this decision lies with the journalists of the Swedish Television. We know from other countries how the journalists are a guild where conformism is strong, and almost all think alike, even more so in Sweden. Furthermore, the Swedish Television is owned by a foundation where the board members are appointed by the government. No, Sweden definitely doesn't have a system of checks and balances. And for the last seven decades the Social Democrats has been in power in a total of 60 years, so the board of the Swedish Television is just one of the many long arms of Swedish state socialism.

A healthy multi-party system needs the ability for new parties to be formed, and the power of this to be in the hands of the people, such as in Denmark. Sweden is, if not a closed system, a system where the entry of new parties is controlled by the journalists and a government appointed board.

This is an vital component in how anti-establishment parties have been blocked out from the political arena in Sweden. But there are several others, such as the strong conformism, lack of diversity, and the group behaviour of the Swedish media. More about that in later posts.

I will continue my conclusion in my next post, about a short history of Swedish anti-establishment parties.


KGS said...

There are so many comparisons between Finland and Sweden.

Take for example Finnish state TV, which is supposedly free from government intervention in spite of the many well known political hacks that frequently find themselves on the board of that institution.

But in the realm of politics we fall along the lines of the Danes, with political parties having to muster at least 5 000 signatures, though the amount the Danes demand, 20 000 sounds much better.

It has resulted in about 15 - 20 actual parties existing and around 8-10 actually making it to parliament.

Steen said...

Tak for en meget interessant serie.

Bare en lille bemærkning. Danmarks Riges Grundlov nævner intet om partier eller hvordan de skal agere.

Det er antagelig valgloven - uden at jeg er helt sikker.

Politiske partier
En anden bemærkelseværdig ting i forhold til den politiske praksis i Danmark er, at grundloven slet ikke nævner politiske partier. Ved skrivningen af den oprindelige lov havde man idealistiske forestillinger om, at hvert medlem skulle optræde som en helt uafhængig person. I praksis viste det sig dog snart, at fælles interesser førte til mere og mere formaliseret samarbejde og dermed partidannelse. Der er derfor efterhånden udviklet en lang række uskrevne regler for partiernes rolle i det politiske system.

Conservative Swede said...

Hej Steen!

Tack för din uppskattning och din kommentar. Jag vet inte exakt hur man ser på det i Danmark men som konstitution menas i många länder något vidare än bara grundlagen. I Sverige ingår t.ex. tryckfrihetsförordningen och successionordningen. Och t.ex. i Storbritannien räknas även oskrivna källor in. Spelregler för det politiska systemet som är oomkullrunkeliga, kan ha lika stor effekt som grundlagen som sådan.

Vasarahammer said...

When I first look at Swedish electoral system, it was a big surprise for me to realize that Sweden does not, in fact, have true electoral secrecy. So the officials at the election site can see, which ballot paper the individual voter takes. The only way to prevent that is to take the blank ballot paper.

In addition, the system allows manipulation of the election by the officials. There was a case during last election, in which an official hid the ballot papers of Swedish Democrats.

In Finnish system you just write down the number of the candidate to the ballot paper.

In the past Finnish state broadcaster Yle had to give equal airtime to all registered political parties in their pre-election broadcasts. However, this has been changed, but the parties not having representatives in the parliament still get a chance to air their views, even though they cannot take part in all televized debates between party leaders.