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POLITICS

What are Sweden’s church elections and how do they work?

September 19th is the date of Sweden's Church Election, a surprising tradition in a largely secular country.

What are Sweden's church elections and how do they work?
Sweden's church elections use a very similar system to the parliamentary elections. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The Lutheran Church of Sweden retains a special status in Sweden, even if church and state were officially separated in 2000.

Nevertheless, it’s Europe’s largest Lutheran denomination, and worldwide only Ethiopia and Tazmania have larger Lutheran church bodies. Headquarted in Uppsala and led by Antje Jackelén, Sweden’s first female archbishop, its main roles are offering church services including weddings, baptisms and funerals, but also offering support to members of its congregations and even aid overseas.

The contenders in the election are sometimes linked to political parties, with the Social Democrats currently the largest represented group and the Centre Party and Sweden Democrats also putting forward candidates. Some other groups are linked to certain political parties, such as the Christian Democrats in the Swedish Church, the Left in the Swedish Church, the Green Party in the Swedish Church, and the Free Liberals in the Swedish Church.

Other groups without any political party ties also field candidates, including the Non-partisans in Church of Sweden (Posk), which became the second largest group in the 2017 election.

One of the big questions is how church funds should be spent, but there are also debates on how the Church should be run. For example, the Christian Democrats are in favour of the introduction of Christian schools, the Left want to devote more funds to the Church’s social work supporting vulnerable parishioners, and some parties have also taken a clear stance on whether priests should be obliged to carry out marriages for same-sex couples.

Sweden’s church elections were modelled on national elections back at the time when it was a state church, and there are elections to the 249 seats of the Synod, as well as at the the diocesan and parish levels.

The elections take place every four years, just like Sweden’s general elections – although they run on different schedules. Even if they ended up scheduled for the same year, as looked possible this year when Sweden’s prime minister resigned, the two cannot be held on the same day due to rules that state elections must be carried out in a neutral way (värdeneutral in Swedish).

The other big difference between the two votes is that while Sweden has typically high voter turnouts for its parliamentary elections, the church elections usually see low turnouts. The previous vote saw only 19 percent of eligible voters head to the polls, which was still the highest turnout since 1934.

Around half the population has the right to vote, which requires being aged over 16 and a member of the Church. Up until 1996, newly born children were automatically made members unless their parents opted out, but this was changed to opt-in. 

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CRIME

Swedish MEP comes forward as accuser in Christian Democrat ‘me-too’ case

Sara Skyttedal, a leading Christian Democrat MEP, has come forward as the woman who reported party secretary Johan Ingerö to the police, leading to his sudden dismissal on Tuesday.

Swedish MEP comes forward as accuser in Christian Democrat 'me-too' case

Johan Ingerö, the Christian Democrat policy advisor who helped develop its harder, more populist approach, was dismissed on Tuesday after Skyttedal reported him to the police for a sexual crime at a post-election party in May 2014. 

“I have not yet seen the [police] report, but from the little information I have received, I know which occasion it concerns and that what is being claimed is not true,” Ingerö said in a Facebook post explaining why he had had to leave. “Whatever the facts, the judgement has been taken that I can no longer carry out my duties as party secretary. It is of course a great sorrow to leave in this way.”

Skyttedal, who was the leader of the Christian Democrats’ youth wing, the KDU, at the time of the alleged incident, followed up with her own Facebook post on Tuesday evening.

“Eight years ago, a party colleague decided, against my will, to try and lay claim to my body. For all these years I have been silent. Tried to suppress what happened,” she wrote in a Facebook post which has since been removed following a large volume of hateful comments.

“I wish I’d said something earlier and feel ashamed that I did not act more powerfully in that moment.”

“That is why the other week, I decided to report the event to the police. The process will play out in the legal system and I will sadly be limited on how much I can comment in future.” 

Skyttedal further explained the background behind why she chose to report the incident now, eight years later.

“A few weeks ago the man crossed a line again, and that was the last straw,” she explained. “A professional line, not even close to the line crossed eight years ago. But something snapped. He, of all people, did not have the right to treat me badly again.”

It is not yet clear which specific crime or crimes Ingerö has been accused of. If he has been accused of ofredande or sexuellt ofredande (molestation or sexual molestation), the statute of limitations for those specific crimes will have expired and he will not be prosecuted.

The fall-out between Skyttedal and Ingerö may be related to her recent outspoken support of drug reform. 

Skyttedal in December went against Christian Democrat party line and began to campaign for the legalisation of cannabis.

She was then interviewed on SVT’s flagship 30 minuter interview programme about her cannabis use, saying she had taken the drug while sitting as an MEP, but only in countries where using the drug is legal.

Christian Democrat party leader Ebba Busch wrote on the party’s website that she had been informed of the accusations on January 29 and that the party had “handled this according to set procedures”.

“It has been handled with the care it requires. Regardless of the reason for Johan leaving his post, the report raises questions about Johan’s ability to fulfil his fiduciary duties,” she wrote. 

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