Democracy and Leadership

Report from the Democratic Audit of Sweden 1996
Olof Petersson, Jörgen Hermansson, Michele Micheletti, Anders Westholm.

Summary in English

Contemporary democracy is suffering from several problems of political leadership. Today it is rather unclear what it means to be a politician and which demands voters can place on their elected representatives. This book discusses different ideas about democratic leadership and describes Swedish politicians both as a group and as individuals. Special attention is given to he constitutional perequisities of the Swedish political system, the Swedish power elite, decision-making processes within policy domains, and the requirements that democracy imposes on individual political leaders.

This book raises a series of questions that are necessary for improving our understanding of leadership problems in modern democracies. What is democratic leadership, and how does it work in parliamentary democracies? How can elected officials contribute to the public debate by simultaneously listening to arguments and taking the initiative in discussions? What obligations are connected with accepting an elective post? What kind of contribution can active leaders make to improve respect among citizens and toleration for groups that are in the minority? What do the principles of separation of power imply for the responsibility and scope of democratic leadership? How can a democratic leader contribute to government performance (effectiveness and decisionmaking capability). What should politicians do to improve public confidence in politics?

These questions pertain to all European nations, not only Sweden. The way different countries attempt to solve the problems varies. There is, therefore, a rich history of experience to draw upon. How have other countries attempted to solve problems related to the inadequacies in their own political systems? The Swedish model is an example of how one particular country attempted to solve these problems. In certain ways, the Swedish case is a good example of how other countries should attempt to solve leadership problems. In other ways, it was not a very good model to follow.

This book offers a systematic investigation of Swedish democracy, which has been conducted by a group of independent political scientists commissioned by the Center for Business and Policy Studies (Studieförbundet näringsliv och samhälle, SNS). The SNS Democratic Audit presents its report on the state of Swedish democracy on a yearly basis. The report for 1996 is one example of how a democratic audit can be formulated theoretically and conducted empirically.

The 1996 report contains six chapters. Chapter 1 is entitled "The State of Swedish Democracy." It presents the main criteria used in the democratic audit. The international theoretical literature on democracy has been used to formulate the criteria. The criteria create an ideal type that functions as both a theoretical construct and norm for comparison. The ideal type can, therefore, be used as a scale and measurement to assess the quality of democracy in existing political systems. With the help of this ideal type, the SNS Democratic Audit formulated an ideal type democratic political system. The three basic components are citizen rule, rule of law, and government performance. This implies that citizens must be able to govern themselves under the conditions of freedom and equality. The legal system must comply with specific basic demands that are respected by public authorities and considered as legitimate by the general public. Finally, the political system must be constructed so that it facilitates government performance. These three basic values of democratic political systems are operationalized into thirteen different indicators.

The audit shows that the state of Swedish democracy can be considered to be positive on six indicators. On two indicators the state of democracy can be said to be satisfactory. In five cases the assessment is negative. The particularly weak points are problems with the Swedish mass media in contributing to the public sphere by fulfilling the democratic indicator of enlightened understanding as well as the inability of Swedish politicians to maintain control over economic resources. The national budget deficit is seen as a detriment to democratic development.

A problem that appears on several indicators involves political leadership. Events in Swedish politics in the past year show clearly that the country must seriously discuss how leadership in a democratic system should be understood. Democracy is a theory about the conditional concentration of power. A clear division of responsibilities and effective methods for accountability are two central prerequisites for democratic leadership. An evaluation of democratic leadership in Sweden must, therefore, begin with the basic demands placed on democratic government: citizen rule, rule of law, and government performance. These issues are taken up in chapters 2-6.

Chapter 2 is entitled "The Constitution and Leadership." The constitution that governs a country sets the setting for democratic leadership. Traditionally political scientists have compared two different political systems (the Westminister and Swiss models) in order to understand the degree of variations in consitutional framework. The study shows that this apprach is inadequate. Not only is it important to understand the differences between political systems based on majoritarianism and proportionalism. It is necessary to understand that political systems also are constructed after whether they facilitate the concentration of political power and whether they distribute or balance political power among several political actors. The analysis presented in this chapter shows that the Swedish constitutional framework is a combination of proportionalism and concentration of power, a framework that puts particularly high demands on democratic leadership.

Chapter 3, "The Swedish Power Elite" summarizes results from a comprehensive study of the leading decisionmakers in Swedish society. Swedish politicians are compared with the power elite in six other spheres, the civil service, private business, interest groups, mass media, academia, and culture. As has been shown in studies on other countries, Swedish politicians are not especially socially representative of the general population. Yet the study shows that they have several significant distinctive characteristics. Compared to many other democracies, Swedish politicians come from a relatively broad strata in society. Also, the number of women among the power elite has increased in recent years. The proportion of women among Sweden's top politicians is currently 43 percent.

Chapter 4, "Leadership in a Segmented State" investigates the impact of sectoral politics on democracy. The size of the public sector as well as its complexity have, over the years, led to a far-reaching specialization and division of labor. Political leadership is actually conducted in rather isolated policy sectors such as agriculture, eduction, health care, transportation, and defense. An audit of democracy and leadership must, therefore, pay particular attention to these policy sectors. Three policy sectors were investigated-- traffic policy, hunting policy, and social insurance policy. The audit shows that the way decisions were made in the traditional Swedish model can be criticized on the basis of democratic principles. Elected officials have not been the political actors who have dominated in these policy sectors. Moreover, politicians have given too much consideration to the demands of special interests as well as resistance of the civil service to policy reform.

Chapter 5, "The Tasks and Responsibilities of Politicians," analyzes democratic leadership from the point of view of individual politicians. The democratic process plays to large degree a decisive role in how politicians understand their particular role in politics. The way that Swedish politicians once understood their role is no longer applicable in an internationalized, complex democracy. Politicians can be said to be in a dilemma situation when it comes to their relationship with the mass media. On the one hand, they are forced to learn and use a language that works well in our media age. On the other hand, they must be able to retain their integrity as politicians and not just allow themselves to be manipulated by journalists. The important question is whether it is at all possible in today's media world for politicians to communicate with citizens in such as way so that they can convincingly explain why difficult, long-term decisions must be made.

The concluding chapter, 6, is entitled "Democratic Leadership." There are several circumstances in Swedish politics that facilitate democratic leadership but that there are also several characteristics of the system that prohibit its development. The SNS Democratic Audit clearly shows that a serious problem is the unclear division of roles and responsibilities among the various political actors involved in democratic government. Another problem concerns the social and informal gatekeeping characteristics that threaten the goals of equal access to the political system. It is also evident that elected officials have not been successful in making citizens understand the conditions under which politicians work. Swedish politics need, therefore, a more creative political pedagogy. There is a lack of great political communicators.

Demokrati och ledarskap. Demokratirådets rapport 1996.
Olof Petersson, Jörgen Hermansson, Michele Micheletti, and Anders Westholm.
SNS Förlag, Stockholm 1996.

The Democratic Audit of Sweden is organized by SNS, the Swedish Center for Business and Policy Studies, a Stockholm-based research organization. The task set itself by successive Democratic Audit Groups has been to contribute to a constructive, objective debate on the workings of Swedish democracy by highlighting different aspects of the Swedish political system. The group is variously composed each year, but it is always made up of four to five independent social scientists.