It is well known fact that Swiss people go to the polls a lot but this week is the big one. You may have noticed the proliferation of billboards of grinning (or grimacing,) political figures as the nation gears up for the election of its house of representatives and the senate. But how does the Swiss system work? Deep breath and here goes…
Like most western democracies Switzerland has two elected houses, the National Council (Nationalrat,) which is equivalent to the US house of Representatives, and the Council of States (Ständerat.) which fulfils the role of the Senate in the US or the House Of Lords in the UK. Both of these bodies will be subject to the upcoming election. Confused? Have a look below to give you an idea how it works.
Unlike most western democracies Switzerland does not have a single head of state but rather a council of seven members that are voted for by the National Council and Council of States. Known as the Federal Council (Bundesrat,) each member has equal power within the council and a ministerial portfolio. Each year, in December a new president of the Federal council is selected. Theoretically, any Swiss citizen of voting age can run for the Federal council but traditionally Federal council members have been selected from members of the National Council and Council of States. Have a look below for a better explanation or if you need a cure for insomnia.
But what of the political parties? Well, there is a bewildering array of interests and parties represented but the four main parties (as of writing,) are as follows, in order of representation in the National Council.
SVP or the Schweizerische Volkspartei (or Swiss Peoples Party,) is a right wing, economically liberal party and one you will often hear urban liberals cursing about. And not surprising considering some of the images they have used for campaiging. At present they hold 65 seats in the National Council and have 5 representatives in the council of states.
SP or Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz (try saying that after a couple of beers,) is a centrist to left wing party and whilst holding fewer seats in the National Council than the SVP (43) has a greater number of representatives in the Council of States. (12)
FDP Die Liberalen is the party formed from 2009 merger of the Freisinnig-Demokratische Partei (literally free thinking democratic party,) and the (much easier to pronounce,) Liberal party. They sit to the centre right of the political spectrum and have 33 seats in the NC and 13 in the council of states.
CVP is the Christian Peoples party or Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz (No wonder they use an acronym,) is another party jostling for central political ground but representing the more right wing viewpoints of political liberals. Of the big four, they have the lowest representation in the NC but are the joint largest party in the council of states along with FDP Die Liberalen.
So where is this election going? Well, according to polls a surge from the Green Party (Grüne) could knock the CVP into 5th place and an increased green representation in the House of representatives is certain to create a more left leaning government for the next four years.
Confused about who to vote for? The following website will take you though a quiz to help you decide which candidate is for you. Visit by clicking here.
Can’t vote? About 25% of the population of Switzerland are not eligible to vote but votetandem.org has found a loop hole that allows people who do not wish to engage in the election to act as a proxy for an ineligible voter. Whether this is legal or not is another matter and i suspect many of the right wing parties will be crying foul but it is possible. For how long is another question.
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