In Sweden, politicians use public transport, earn modest wages, work in humble offices, wash and iron their own clothes and are treated just like everyone else. Stop here.
Read again. And tell me the most important bit. Well, it is, in my opinion, politicians being treated like everyone else.
Sweden the Untold story aims to look in the historical roots of Swedish democracy and how it manages to work. She sheds light on why Sweden has long been viewed as a beacon for democratic government and progressive social policies. In her witty and insightful book, journalist and writer Claudia Wallin takes a fascinating look at the Swedish model of government, its commitment to transparency and openness, and its deep-seated aversion to politicians, judges and public servants enjoying any special privileges or advantages.
Welcome to the Swedish reality of members of Parliament commuting by bus, living in 16-square-meters studio apartments in the capital and working from 10-square-metre offices. No one in public life earns an obscene multiple-digit salary. At the local level, Swedish councillors are not even paid, nor do they have the right to an office – they work from home.
Politicians who dare pay for a taxi ride with taxpayers’ money, instead of riding the train, end up on news headlines. And in some cases, are forced to step down.
Without official cars or private drivers, Swedish politicians travel in crowded buses and trains, just like the citizens they represent. Without any right to parliamentary immunity, they can be tried like any other citizen. With no private secretaries at the door or private bathrooms and breakfast bars, their bare-bones parliamentary offices are spartan and tiny like a public clerk’s office.
Claudia Wallin also focuses on how the triple pillars of the Swedish system – transparency (Sweden has the world’s oldest transparency law), social equality and a well-educated population – combine to create a high degree of social trust. In virtually every area of public life, incidences of corruption or profiting from public office are relatively rare and, when transgressions occur, politicians and officials are swiftly brought to account, aided by an ever-vigilant media.
Not even celebrities are immune. Under suspicion of tax fraud, the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was once arrested inside a theatre and taken to a police station.
In little over 100 years, Sweden has transformed itself from an impoverished, agricultural society into one of the wealthiest, most socially just and least corrupt countries in the world, where nobody is above anybody else. The Swedish experience demonstrates perhaps more than any other how change is possible.
Now compare and contrast all of it with lives, lifestyles, perks and privileges, scandals and scams, use and misuse of authority and other shenanigans of our politicians. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan and Sweden are poles apart on various counts ranging from population to literacy level on one side and economy to democratisation of society on the other.
Yet, the inertia that defines the politics in Pakistan can be shed. Wisdom lies in learning from those who’ve traversed the rocky path and succeeded.