Politics of Switzerland
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Politics of Switzerland


The politics of Switzerland take place in
the framework of a multi-party federal directorial democratic republic, whereby the Federal Council
of Switzerland is the head of government and head of state. Executive power is exercised by the government
and the federal administration and is not concentrated in any one person. 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. Switzerland is the closest state in the world
to a direct democracy. For any change in the constitution, a referendum
is mandatory; for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested. Through referenda, citizens may challenge
any law voted by federal parliament and through federal popular initiative introduce amendments
to the federal constitution. Direct representation Switzerland features a system of government
not seen in any other nation: direct representation, sometimes called half-direct democracy. Referendums on the most important laws have
been used since the 1848 constitution. Amendments of the Federal Constitution of
Switzerland, the joining of international organizations or changes to federal laws that
have no foundation in the constitution but if in force for more than one year must be
approved by the majority of both the people and the cantons, a. 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 of the voters 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 a federal popular initiative to be
organised, the signatures of 100,000 voters must be collected within 18 months. Such a federal popular initiative is formulated
as a precise new text whose wording can no longer be changed by parliament and the government. After a successful signature gathering, the
federal council may create a counterproposal to the proposed amendment and put it to vote
on the same day as the original proposal. Such counter-proposals are usually a compromise
between the status quo and the wording of the initiative. Voters will decide in a national vote whether
to accept the initiative amendment, the counter proposal put forward by the government if
any, 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, while counter-proposals may
be of legislative level and hence require only simple majority. 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; 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, Eveline
Widmer-Schlumpf, Ueli Maurer, Didier Burkhalter, Simonetta Sommaruga, Johann Schneider-Ammann
and Alain Berset. The largely ceremonial President and Vice
President of the Confederation are elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members
of the Federal Council for one-year terms that run concurrently. The President has almost no powers over and
above his or her six colleagues, but undertakes representative functions normally performed
by a president or prime minister in single-executive systems. The current President and Vice President are
Didier Burkhalter and Simonetta Sommaruga, 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; this member is almost always replaced by someone from
the same party. The Swiss government has been a coalition
of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats
that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS,
2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the “magic formula”. 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 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 and
the National Council The previous elections to the National Council
were held in 2007, see 2007 elections for more details. The five parties that hold seats in the Federal
Council dominate both chambers of the Assembly; they currently hold a supermajority of 167
seats in the National Council, and 41 in the Council of States. Most hearings in the parliament are open to
everyone, including foreigners. Political parties and elections Switzerland has a rich party landscape. The five parties represented in the Federal
Council are generally called the government parties: Free Democratic Party, Social Democratic
Party, Christian Democratic Party, Swiss People’s Party, and Conservative Democratic Party of
Switzerland. As of 2011 only the five government parties
were represented in the Council of States. In the National Council the party landscape
is more diverse with six 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 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,
to the point that many observers deem that the system is in crisis 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 right-wing Swiss People’s Party, 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, rising to 28.9% in 2007, 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. Because of the split-off of the Conservative
Democratic Party from the Swiss People’s Party in 2008, since then the latter holds again
only one seat in the Federal Council as of 2011. Also, the People’s Party lost eight of their
seats in the National Council and two in the Council of states in the elections of 2011. The Swiss Federal Constitution limits federal
influence in the formulation of domestic policy and emphasizes the roles of private enterprise
and cantonal government. However, in more recent times the powers of
the Confederation have increased with regard to 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,
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. Extremism
Political extremism is not a widespread phenomenon in Switzerland, although far-left extremism
has increased slightly since the turn of the century in 2000 has resulted in improved organization
of the far left, but it has no noticeable impact on parliamentary or direct democracy. Far-left activists briefly won the attention
of mainstream media for protesting in favor of open borders and against the banning of
the construction of minarets. 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. 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 United Nations or Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 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 referenda 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 federal popular initiative voted on in
1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes. In May 2011, due to the Fukushima accident
in Japan, the Swiss government decided to abandon plans to build new nuclear reactors. The country’s five existing reactors will
be allowed to continue operating, but will not be replaced at the end of their life span. The last will go offline in 2034. See also
International relations of Switzerland Modern history of Switzerland
Demographics of Switzerland Direct democracy
Federal popular initiative Referendum, List of Swiss federal referendums
Concordance system Constitutional conventions of Switzerland
Notes and references Bibliography
Pierre Cormon, Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners, Editions Slatkine, 2014, ISBN 978-2-8231-0607-5
Wolf Linder, Yannis Papadopoulos, Hanspeter Kriesi, Peter Knoepfel, Ulrich Klöti, Pascal
Sciarini: Handbook of Swiss Politics, Neue Zürcher
Zeitung Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-3-03823-136-3. Handbuch der Schweizer Politik / Manuel de
la politique suisse, Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2007, ISBN 978-3-03823-136-3. Vincent Golay and Mix et Remix, Swiss political
institutions, Éditions loisirs et pédagogie, 2008. ISBN 978-2-606-01295-3. External links
Swiss government site Swiss parliament site
Chief of State and Cabinet Members Political rights at the federal level
The political landscape of the present parliament depicted in a graph
Swiss political system

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