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Political System of Switzerland

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

The Swiss political system is characterized by its unique blend of direct democracy and federalism. Switzerland is a federal republic, meaning it consists of several semi-autonomous cantons that have significant powers. Here's an overview of how the Swiss political system works:

  1. Federal Structure: Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, each with its own constitution, government, and parliament. These cantons retain a considerable degree of sovereignty, and their powers are only limited by the federal constitution.

  2. Federal Constitution: The Swiss Federal Constitution serves as the supreme law of the land. It outlines the basic principles of the state, the rights of citizens, and the distribution of powers between the federal government and the cantons.

  3. Federal Assembly: The Swiss Federal Assembly is the national parliament and legislative body of Switzerland. It is bicameral, consisting of two chambers:

    • The National Council: This chamber represents the Swiss citizens and is directly elected by proportional representation. The number of representatives from each canton is based on its population size.

    • The Council of States: This chamber represents the cantons, and each canton is represented by two members, regardless of its size.

  1. Federal Council: The Federal Council is the executive body of the federal government. It consists of seven members who are elected by the Federal Assembly. Each member heads a federal department, and the presidency of the council rotates among the members each year.

  2. Direct Democracy: One of the most distinctive features of the Swiss political system is direct democracy. Swiss citizens have the right to propose changes to the constitution, laws, and even veto decisions made by the parliament. This is done through referendums and popular initiatives.

    • Referendums: Any amendment to the constitution or significant changes to federal laws must be approved by the citizens through a mandatory referendum. If a certain number of citizens or cantons demand it, any law passed by the parliament can be subject to a referendum.

    • Popular Initiatives: Swiss citizens can propose changes to the constitution or new legislation through popular initiatives. If an initiative gathers enough valid signatures, it goes to a popular vote, and if approved, it becomes law.

  1. Cantonal and Local Government: Each canton has its own political system, which may vary in structure and power. Some cantons have unicameral parliaments, while others have bicameral systems. Additionally, local government plays a crucial role in decision-making at the community level.

Overall, the Swiss political system emphasizes decentralization, power-sharing, and citizen participation through direct democracy. This approach has contributed to Switzerland's stable and prosperous political environment over the years. However, please note that political systems may evolve, so it's always a good idea to check for any updates or changes beyond September 2021.



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