Foreign-born people remain under-represented in Swedish parliament

The proportion of Swedish MPs with a foreign background has not risen since the last mandate period, and is significantly lower than the corresponding proportion of the general population, a new study reveals.
Just over one in ten (11.5 percent) of Swedish members of parliament have a foreign background, according to the survey carried out by Sveriges Radio Ekot, compared to 24 percent of the Swedish population as a whole.

The survey defined ‘foreign background’ as either someone who themselves was born abroad, or who was born in Sweden to two foreign-born parents.

“You put your own experience into politics, so from that perspective it’s important to have good representation,” Social Democrat MP Serkan Köse told The Local. Köse was born in Turkey and moved to Sweden as a ten-year-old with his mother and siblings.

“I think we have good representation in my party. We have different kinds of knowledge and backgrounds: age, gender, people from different areas of Sweden,” he said. “It’s about having good experience and also different kinds of cultures and backgrounds completing each other.”

As for how Köse’s own background has influenced his work and focus as a politician, he said: “It differs from day to day. I always put my experiences and perspective into debates about what we call ‘multicultural’ questions in Swedish society. In the labour market commission we talk about the situation for people with non-Swedish background and we want to do more for this group, so I put in my own perspective. I try my best to show how I see this from my multicultural perspective.”

There were large differences between the eight parties that are represented in Swedish parliament, with the highest proportion of Swedes with a foreign background (32 percent) in the Left Party compared to just three percent of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.

Among the Liberals, 20 percent of MPs had a foreign background, compared to 14.3 percent of the Moderate Party, 12.5 percent of the Green Party, 10 percent of the Social Democrats, 6.5 percent of the Centre Party, and 4.6 percent of the Christian Democrats.

Previous research into representation of foreign-born Swedes in municipal politics has suggested that people in this group are particularly poorly represented at higher levels of politics. There did not seem to be a correlation with candidates’ age, gender, or level of education, but those who had lived in Sweden for more than 20 years were more likely to reach higher-level positions.

Foreign-born residents are also less likely to vote in elections than native-born Swedes, with the turnout rate at 72 percent among this group compared to 90 percent among native Swedes in the 2014 elections (the corresponding statistics for the 2018 election have not yet been released).

As The Local reported earlier this year, Swedish organizations led several initiatives to encourage democratic participation among the country’s foreign-born Swedes ahead of the September election.