Politics of Switzerland

Politics of Switzerland

Politics of Switzerland takes place in the framework of a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic republic, whereby the Federal Council of Switzerland is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government and the federal administration. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. For any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory; for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law voted by federal parliament and through initiatives introduce amendments to the federal constitution, making Switzerland the closest state in the world to a direct democracy.

Direct democracy

Switzerland features a system of government not seen at the national level on any other place on Earth: direct democracy, sometimes called half-direct democracy (this may be arguable, as, theoretically, one could state that the people have full power over the law). Referendums on the most important laws have been used since the 1848 constitution.

Any citizen may challenge a law that has been passed by parliament. If that person is able to gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days, a national vote has to be scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law.

Also, any citizen may seek a decision on an amendment they want to make to the constitution. For such an amendment initiative to be organised, the signatures of 100,000 voters must be collected within 18 months. Such a popular initiative may be formulated as a general proposal or - much more often - be put forward as a precise new text whose wording can no longer be changed by parliament and the government. After a successful vote gathering, the federal council may create a counterproposal to the proposed amendment and put it to vote on the same day. Such counterproposals are usually a compromise between the status quo and the wording of the initiative. Voters will again decide in a national vote whether to accept the initiative amendment, the counterproposal put forward by the government or both. If both are accepted, one has to additionally signal a preference. Initiatives have to be accepted by a double majority of both the popular votes and a majority of the cantons.

Executive branch

The Swiss Federal Council is a seven-member executive council that heads the federal administration, operating as a combination cabinet and collective presidency. Any Swiss citizen eligible to be a member of the National Council can be elected [Swiss Federal Constitution, art. 175 al. 3] ; candidates do not have to register for the election, or to actually be members of the National Council. The Federal Council is elected by the Federal Assembly for a four-year term. Present members are: Doris Leuthard, Samuel Schmid, Micheline Calmy-Rey, Pascal Couchepin, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Hans-Rudolf Merz and Moritz Leuenberger.

The largely ceremonial President of the Confederation and the Vice-President of Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for one-year terms that run concurrently. The current (2008) President and Vice President are Pascal Couchepin and Hans-Rudolf Merz, respectively.

The Swiss executive is one of the most stable governments worldwide. Since 1848, it has never been renewed entirely at the same time, providing a long-term continuity. From 1959 to 2003 the Federal Council was composed of a coalition of all major parties in the same ratio: 2 each from the Free Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party and Christian Democratic People's Party and 1 from the Swiss People's Party. Changes in the council occur typically only if one of the members resigns (merely four incumbent members were voted out of the office in over 150 years); this member is almost always replaced by someone from the same party (and often also from the same linguistic group).

This "magic formula" has been repeatedly criticised: in the 1960s, for excluding leftist opposition parties; in the 1980s, for excluding the emerging Green party; and particularly after the 1999 election, by the People's Party, which had by then grown from being the fourth largest party on the National Council to being the largest. In the elections of 2003, the People's Party received (effective January 1, 2004) a second seat in the Federal Council, reducing the share of the Christian Democratic Party to one seat.

Legislative branch

Switzerland has a bicameral parliament called the Federal Assembly, made up of:
* the Council of States (46 seats - members serve four-year terms) and
* the National Council (members are elected by popular vote on a basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms)

The previous elections (before those held in 2007, below) to the National Council were held in 2003, see elections of 2003 for more details. The four parties that hold seats in the Federal Council dominate both chambers of the Assembly; they currently hold a supermajority of 171 seats (out of 200) on the National Council, plus every seat in the Council of States except for 3.

Most hearings in the parliament are open to everyone, including foreigners.

Political parties and elections

Switzerland has a rich party landscape. The four parties represented in the Federal Council are generally called the government parties: Free Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party, and Swiss People's Party.

As of 2005 only the four government parties were represented in the Council of States. In the National Council the party landscape is more diverse with eight non-government parties having at least one seat.

Judicial branch

Switzerland has a Federal Supreme Court, with judges elected for six-year terms by the Federal Assembly. The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals of cantonal courts or the administrative rulings of the federal administration.

Political conditions

Although it has a diverse society, Switzerland has a stable government. Most voters support the government in its philosophy of armed neutrality underlying its foreign and defense policies. Domestic policy poses some major problems, but the changing international environment has generated a significant reexamination of Swiss policy in key areas such as defense, neutrality, and immigration. Quadrennial national elections typically produce only marginal changes in party representation.

In recent years, Switzerland has seen a gradual shift in the party landscape. The rightist Swiss People's Party (SVP), traditionally the junior partner in the four-party coalition government, more than doubled its voting share from 11.0% in 1987 to 22.5% in 1999, thus overtaking its three coalition partners. This shift in voting shares put a strain on the "magic formula", the power-broking agreement of the four coalition parties. Since 1959 the seven-seat cabinet had comprised 2 Free Democrats, 2 Christian Democrats, 2 Social Democrats, and 1 Swiss People's Party, but in 2004, the Swiss People's Party took one seat from the Christian Democrats.

The Swiss Federal Constitution limits federal influence in the formulation of domestic policy and emphasizes the roles of private enterprise and cantonal government. However, the Confederation has been compelled to enlarge its policymaking powers in recent years to cope with national problems such as education, agriculture, health, energy, the environment, organized crime, and narcotics.

The Index of perception of corruption puts Switzerland among the least corrupt nations. In the 2005 survey, Switzerland ranks 7th (out of 158 surveyed), with 9.1 out of 10 possible points, representing an improvement of 0.4 points over the past four years.

Together with seven other European nations, Switzerland leads the 2005 index on Freedom of the Press published by Reporters Without Borders (with a score 0.5 points, zero being the perfect score).


Political extremism is not a widespread phenomenon in Switzerland, although far-right extremism has increased slightly since the turn of the century: the Swiss federal police counted 111 right extremist incidents in 2005, estimating that the number of members of the "right extremist scene" grew by 20% to some 1,200 (including loosely associated sympathisants reaching some 2,000, or 0.03% of the total population) in 2005.The emergence of the völkisch Partei National Orientierter Schweizer in 2000 has resulted in improved organization of the far right, but it has no noticeable impact on parliamentary or direct democracy. Far-right activists briefly won the attention of mainstream media for disrupting the 2005 celebration of the Swiss national holiday on the Rütli Meadow. Conversely, far left activism has shown a slight decrease, although an increasing tendency towards violence was observed. The federal police further recognizes some activity by extremist Islamist groups as well as extremist or violent ethnic Albanian, Turkish, Kurdish and Tamil groups which mostly remain under-cover and aim at funding their activities abroad. [ [http://www.fedpol.admin.ch/etc/medialib/data/sicherheit/bericht_innere_sicherheit.Par.0038.File.tmp/BISS_2005_d.pdf 2005 report on domestic security] ]

Foreign relations

Switzerland has avoided alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action. In June 2001, Swiss voters approved new legislation providing for the deployment of armed Swiss troops for international peacekeeping missions under UN or OSCE auspices as well as international cooperation in military training. The Swiss have broadened the scope of activities in which they feel able to participate without compromising their neutrality.

Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as a neutral intermediary and host to major international treaty conferences. The country has no major disputes in its bilateral relations.

Energy politics

The energy generated in Switzerland comprises 55.2% hydroelectricity, 39.9% from nuclear power, about 4% from conventional sources and about 1% other.

On May 18, 2003, two referendums regarding the future of nuclear power in Switzerland were held. The referendum "Electricity Without Nuclear" asked for a decision on a nuclear power phase-out and "Moratorium Plus" asked about an extension of an existing law forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants. Both were turned down: Moratorium Plus by a margin of 41.6% for and 58.4% opposed, and Electricity Without Nuclear by a margin of 33.7% for and 66.3% opposed. The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes (see Nuclear power in Switzerland for details).intogoal



* Wolf Linder, Yannis Papadopoulos, Hanspeter Kriesi, Peter Knoepfel, Ulrich Klöti, Pascal Sciarini:
" [http://www.nzz-libro.ch/de/detail.php?actuel=1&pageNum_articlegroup=&totalRows_articlegroup=&up_oberKatNr=&up_katNr=&up_oberArtikelNr=&up_oberArtikelNr=479 Handbook of Swiss Politics] ", Neue Zürcher Zeitung Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-3-03823-136-3
" [http://www.nzz-libro.ch/de/detail.php?actuel=1&pageNum_articlegroup=&totalRows_articlegroup=&up_oberKatNr=&up_katNr=&up_oberArtikelNr=&up_oberArtikelNr=479 Handbuch der Schweizer Politik / Manuel de la politique suisse] ", Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2007, ISBN 978-3-03823-136-3

ee also

*International relations of Switzerland
*Modern history of Switzerland
*Demographics of Switzerland
*Direct democracy
*Concordance system
*Constitutional conventions of Switzerland
*Voting in Switzerland

External links

* [http://www.admin.ch Swiss government site] - English link at bottom
* [http://www.parliament.ch Swiss parliament site]
* [http://www.swissworld.org/dvd_rom/eng/direct_democracy_2004/content/fedrights/factsheet.pdf Political rights at the federal level]
* [http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics/political_system/index.html?siteSect=1550 The political System in Switzerland]
* [http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics/index.html?siteSect=1500 News & articles about the swiss politics]

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