1.2. History of the constitutional system

The Instrument of Government, the fundamental law that regulates the constitutional system, dates from 1974. Prior to that, the constitution was based on the 1809 Constitution. It had, however, undergone big changes. Until 1866, the Swedish Riksdag consisted of four congregations representing different social classes (stånd, estates) - the nobility, the clergy, the burghers and the peasants. In 1866 a bicameral Riksdag was established; where the second chamber was elected in direct elections every four years, whilst the first chamber was elected indirectly by electors and was only one third of the seats were up for election at every one time. These elections also took place every four years but they were co-ordinated with municipal elections and took place two years after each election to the second chamber. Suffrage was differentiated by financial status. The richest had 40 votes and those without assets did not have a vote.

During the first two decades of the 20th century political life was dominated by the intertwined questions of suffrage, parliamentarianism and defence. Mandatory military service, which was fully established in 1901 gave those arguing for universal suffrage an argument that made a profound impression on the conservative side ("one man, one vote, one rifle"). The electoral reform that was undertaken in 1909 gave all men equal suffrage in elections to the second chamber of the Riksdag. In municipal elections and thus also in elections to the first chamber, the right to vote was still weighed according to income. The veto powers of the first chamber in matters relating to the fundamental laws effectively prevented a more radical constitutional reform. It was not until 1921 that a constitutional reform was undertaken that removed most of the remaining limits to political democracy. Women were enfranchised in elections to the second chamber and the income limits were removed, leading to the democratisation of the first chamber.

The definite break-through of modern parliamentarianism in Sweden came together with the victory of democracy after the First World War. The Constitution of 1809 was characterized by the division of powers between the King and the Riksdag. However, Government (statsrådet) was long dominated by civil servants. Little by little, parliamentarians gained access into the Government. The respect for the basic tenet of parliamentarianism - that the Government should not be based on the monarch's personal trust but only on the political trust of the popular representation - was, however, deficient. The Prime Minister was fully appointed according to the principles of parliamentarianism after 1917, but until 1975 the King was the person discussing with the party leaders and suggesting a prime ministerial candidate to the Riksdag.