Switzerland is a federal state, made up of twenty-two states (cantons), two of which (Appenzell, Unterwalden) are divided into two; the canton of Basel was also divided into Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft (Baselland); but on 23 February 1936 the two half cantons voted on the meeting. Conflicts of jurisdiction are decided by the federal court, when they concern relations between cantons and between them and the confederation, by the federal assembly when they arise between one confederal authority and the other.
The cantons participate indirectly in the activity of the confederation, as organs for the election of the council of states; directly, since the request of five cantons is enough to convene the federal assembly; they have the right of initiative in the assembly and the right to collaborate in the revision of the federal constitution, adding the vote of the individual cantons to the popular vote.
The confederation legally regulates and administers directly: post, telegraphs, telephones, money, customs, alcohol monopoly, direction of explosives, issue of bank notes, foreign affairs (cantons can deal with foreign countries directly only by exception and for business of secondary importance), supervision of emigration and private insurance agencies, intellectual property, management of the Swiss accident insurance institute. They are the responsibility of the confederation, but administered partly by it, partly by the cantons: the army, the registry office, the control over foreigners (advocate to the confederation to an increasing extent with regard to political refugees and the unemployed); while it is entrusted solely to the cantons execution of confederal laws regarding weights and measures, hygiene, livestock hygiene, labor protection, transport of food and explosive materials, health insurance, surveillance of hydraulic and forestry works, civil engineering, etc. Exclusively cantonal competence, but subject to observance of certain principles established by the federal constitution are: school, church, courts, press law, granting of citizenship, political rights. The constitution absolutely prohibits, among other things, the manufacture, import and sale of absinthe, the death penalty for political crimes, the establishment of new convents and new religious orders, the introduction of the Jesuit order, military capitulations, conscription on behalf of foreign powers, permanent troops,
The political bodies of the Swiss confederation are: the national council and the council of states, one representing the Swiss people as a whole (“democratic principle”), the other the cantons (“traditional principle”). The council of states and the national council form the federal assembly together, but sit separately, except for the election of the president, and for conflicts of jurisdiction between confederal authorities; in these cases the absolute majority decides. The national council is elected according to the proportional system (one representative for every 22,000 residents); the electoral districts are the cantons, which each elect at least one deputy. Voters are Swiss citizens aged 20, all voters are eligible, except ecclesiastics and state, confederal or confederation dependent officials. The members of the national council receive an allowance. The council of states is made up of 44 members, two for each canton (one for each half-canton). Members of the national council or the federal council are not eligible. The election takes place canton by canton, either directly or through the canton’s grand council. The federal assembly has legislative, as well as executive, and, in some points, judicial functions. The federal assembly is responsible for: organization and method of election of the federal authorities, of the general commanding the army, of various officials; war measures and relations with foreign countries, budget, revision of the constitution, etc. In the one and in the
The supreme executive authority is the federal council, made up of seven members elected for three years by the federal assembly from among eligible Swiss citizens (they must all belong to different cantons); it does not depend on a vote of confidence of the assembly itself. The president and the vice president of the council are elected by the parliament for one year, and are not re-eligible. The privileges of the president are of a formal nature (primus inter pares). In addition to the normal administrative competences (exercised through the departments: political [foreign affairs], interior, justice and police, military, finance and customs, economics, post and railways), the council is authorized to call the troops to arms on their own initiative, in case of need. A chancellor and two federal deputy chancellors, elected by the parliament, handle the affairs of the chancellery of the parliament, the federal council and organize elections and referendums. The federal court, which resides not in Bern like the other federal authorities, but in Lausanne, is made up of 26-28 members and nine alternates, elected by the parliament for six years, taking into account the three Swiss national languages, from among Swiss citizens. with the exception of members of parliament, the council of states, the federal council, officials; the president is elected from among the federal judges by the parliament. The federal court is made up of five sections (1st and 2nd civil section, public and administrative law section, bankruptcy law section, criminal law section, divided into four subsections).
In addition to political and civil, cantonal and confederal elections, Swiss citizens exercise their rights through the constitutional initiative, for which an application signed by 50,000 voters is enough for the need for a total revision of the constitution to be put in a referendum (since 1896 the popular initiative is also allowed for partial revisions; the signatures for the revision must be collected within six months; there is no popular initiative for the proposal of laws), and through the referendum, for which the signatures of 30,000 electors or the motion of eight cantons are sufficient, within ninety days from the publication of a federal law (which is not of an urgent nature), so that the popular vote (with written and secret vote) on the law itself; the simple majority decides.
The jurisdiction of the cantons is autonomous and absolutely independent of the federal authority. All cantons have democratic constitutions; not only the cantonal legislation, but also the appointment of many cantonal officials and magistrates therefore proceeds directly from the people. There are rural cantons (Landesgemeindekantone): Obwalden, Nidwalden, Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Glarus, where all citizens exercise sovereignty directly; cantons with mandatory referendums: Zurich, Bern, Schwyz, Grisons, Basel-country, Thurgau, Aargau, Solothurn, Valais; with optional referendum: Lucerne, Zug, Basel city, St. Gallen, Ticino, Neuchâtel, Geneva, Friborg. Vaud has a referendum mandatory and optional, as appropriate. The meetings of the rural cantons have kept their solemn traditional character (the Church intervenes in the Catholic cantons); all voters are obliged to participate: they are held annually in spring, on Sundays; voting takes place by show of hands. The other cantons have only the Grand Council as their legislative body, elected by secret, direct, proportional vote. The executive body is the government council. For the cantons, too, the people have the rights of initiative and referendum ; this is different from the federal one: the people can through it express their vote on the constitution, laws and resolutions of the legislative authority. The referendum cantonal on the constitution is prescribed by the federal constitution, that on laws exists in all cantons; in some there is a financial referendum, for the approval of decisions that involve expenses above a certain limit. There is also the right of popular initiative.