Short for SZ by Abbreviationfinder, Switzerland is a federal republic where the central power is unusually weak. This applies partly in relation to the 26 cantons (states) and partly in relation to citizens who can tear up government decisions by referendums. The country is always led by a kind of unity government that includes the major parties.
The current constitution entered into force in 2000, when it was earlier replaced from 1874 primarily to incorporate a series of additions made over the years. No changes were made by Switzerland’s unique state of affairs, which is characterized by direct democracy, far-reaching regional self-government and an effort to align the interests of different groups at the national level.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Switzerland for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
It is a model that has helped keep the religious, linguistically and geographically divided country together. The model has also created political stability that stood out even when war raged in the immediate area. But the system is sluggish; it is often difficult to bring about change. The country is distinguished by first introducing female suffrage at national level in 1971, and as late as 1990, the men in the half-canton Appenzell-Innerrhoden women refused that right. Finally, the Supreme Court intervened and held that such a restriction on the right to vote violated the Constitution.
During the post-war period, the federal agencies still strengthened their power, despite protests from the cantons. Today, the federal agencies are responsible for foreign, defense and trade policy as well as overall legislation. Some of the tax law has also been transferred from the cantons to the federation.
Parliament, or the Federal Assembly, establishes laws and appoints a government. The Federal Assembly has two chambers: the Standing Council with 46 members (two from each cantonment and one from each cantonment) and the National Council with 200 members appointed in relation to the population in the cantons. The chambers are equal and all members are elected in general elections every four years. For all decisions, unity between the chambers is required; if they disagree, the issue is bounced back and forth until agreement is reached. There is no obstruction to Parliament; after the 2019 election, there are eleven parties in the national council.
The members of the Federal Assembly elect seven ministers who form the government, the Federal Council. Ministers are appointed for four years at a time by secret ballot and according to a complex system which means, among other things, that no canton can have more than one minister, and that the French and Italian-speaking cantons together occupy at least two ministerial posts. In addition, the largest parties are guaranteed a seat in the government.
The Federal Council is a kind of permanent unity government. Although the ministers have different party affiliation, they normally act as a unit outward. Party politics play less role than in other countries. The government is not responsible for the Federal Assembly, unlike in a parliamentary system. It cannot be dismissed, nor does it dissolve Parliament or announce new elections. Furthermore, Switzerland has no prime minister, but the ministers take turns to occupy the honorary post of presidential one year at a time. In addition to his ministerial duties, the president has representative duties.
Of the 26 cantons, six are called half-cantons, as they form part of a historically cohesive area. They form their own states, but have only one member each in the county council and half a vote when the cantons vote at the federal level. In terms of population, the cantons vary widely: the largest is Zurich with 1.5 million residents and the smallest Appenzell-Innerrhoden with 16,000 residents. The small cantons have a disproportionate political significance in referendums on constitutional issues, since both a majority of people and a majority of cantons are required for a proposal to be approved.
The cantons have far-reaching self-government, with their own constitutions, governments and parliaments. They themselves have, among other things, taxes, health care and education. Two small cantons have retained the old system with an annual meeting for all their residents who then carry out voting by hand raising. The approximately 2,600 municipalities have autonomy in matters concerning their own municipality.
Referendums are mandatory when it comes to constitutional changes and deciding whether the country should join supranational bodies or security organizations (for example, NATO). Referendums can also be held on request, through so-called citizens’ initiatives: if at least 100,000 Swiss demand a referendum if the constitution is held, and if at least 50,000, or eight cantons, want to vote on new federal laws and regulations, it will. Citizens thus have a form of veto power. New proposals are not often opposed by an active conservative minority in the German-speaking parts of the country.
The possibility of referendum is being used more and more often. The Swiss vote four times a year on federal issues, while the number of votes at regional and local levels varies widely. At the same time, participation has dropped and is now generally around 40 percent, which means that a minority of voters can decide important issues. The voting age is 18 years.
Direct democracy at all levels gives the individual a central role, which for most Swiss is at the heart of a democratic system. There is not only one center of power but several. Many Swiss oppose the expansion of federal power, while at the same time finding themselves in a number of municipal regulations that closely regulate people’s lives, even with authoritarian and patriarchal signs.
The judiciary differs somewhat between the different cantons. The federal courts review appeals from the cantonal courts, as well as federal cases involving, for example, corruption crimes or organized crime. There are also military courts at the federal level.
Between 1959 and 2003, the ministerial posts were divided between four parties according to a “magical formula”, where social democrats, liberals and Christian democrats had two posts each and one nationalist party had one post. This formula was broken since the latter, the Swiss People’s Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei / Union démocratique du Center, SVP), had success in several consecutive elections and became the largest party. The Federal Assembly chose to allow the SVP to take over a seat from the Christian Democrats who lost many voters. However, a conflict after the 2007 election led to a split of the SVP and by 2015 a fifth party had a seat in the government. Subsequently, the distribution returned to the one that prevailed in 2003-2007 (see Modern History and Current Policy).
SVP stands at the far right of the parties. It was initially a peasant party but developed from the 1980s into a right-wing populist party with strong immigration, Islam and EU hostile features. The transformation was largely behind the industrialist and multi-billionaire Christoph Blocher, who had been running loud campaigns that played on xenophobia.
Following the split of the SVP, in 2008 the Civil Democratic Party was formed (Bürgerlich-Demokratische Partei Schweiz / Parti Bourgeois Démocratique Suisse, BDP). The smaller BDP is more moderate than SVP.
The Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei, SP) is the second largest in the Federal Assembly and has a program that is of the same average as the party comrades in other Western European countries.
Liberals and Christian Democrats are bourgeois middle parties. Liberal Democratic Party (Freisinnig-Demokratische Partei / Parti radical-democratique, FDP) developed from the liberal party that led the fight for a federal constitution in the 19th century (see Older history a) and advocates a strong central power. In 2009, the party merged with a smaller liberal party and now calls itself the FDP.Liberals (FDP.Die Liberalen / PLR.Les Libéraux-Radicaux). The Christian Democratic People’s Party (Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei / Parti démocrate-chrétien, CVP) opposes too strong centralization. CVP stands near the Catholic Church and has its main support in the countryside in the interior of Switzerland.
Since 2007, there have been two environmental parties in Parliament: the Greens (Grüne Partei der Schweiz / Parti écologiste Suisse, GPS) and the Green Liberal Party (Grünliberale Partei der Schweiz / Parti Vert’libéraux, GLP). The latter was formed by leavers from the former and stands to the right of it.