Swiss democracy is in some ways less direct than some representative democracies, but…

Hi. I Hope things going well for you, your neighborhood, your village, town and city, your region and your country.

Today I received a very practical book from the Embassy of Switzerland in Canada, courtesy of the Ambassador of Switzerland, Harald Augeneder.

Tomorrow I will reproduce here the Foreword that Doris Leuthard wrote for  2010 edition of the book “Guidebook to Direct Democracy” written by Bruno Kaufmann, Rolf Büchi and  Nadja Braun.

Doris Leuthard was President of Switzerland in 2010 and 2017. You may be surprised to note that Doris Leuthar was President for only the years 2010 and 2017, not from 210 to 2017, just 2010 and 2017.

I thought this is a good opportunity to give you a quick idea of how the Swiss federal government works.

In Switzerland, the President is elected only for one year by the members of  The Federal Assembly of Switzerland (the Swiss Parliament). The President is one of the seven members of the Swiss Federal Council. All members of the Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly and serve for four years, but they can be reelected. Any Swiss citizen with the right to vote can become member of the Federal Council, but in practice the members of the Federal Council are politicians.

The Federal Council is the national federal executive of Switzerland. The seven members of the council, together, are responsible for leading the federal government.

The Council is the collective head of state and of government . The Presidency rotates yearly. The President has no individual powers, except in an emergency if the Council could not meet quickly enough,

Each Councilor heads one of the seven federal executive departments (ministries).  The US has also a small number, only 8. Perhaps the similarity is because the Swiss found inspiration in the US Constitution to set up their government. Fortunately for the Swiss, they made modifications, such as expanding direct democracy, which has produced a far more stable and more cooperative system. Overall, it has produced a better managed society; socially, economically and also more just and fair.

Other countries have many more ministries: Canada 31, UK has between 18 and 26, depending on how you count, France 17, Germany 14.

The position of President of the Swiss Confederation rotates among the seven councilors on a yearly basis. This year’s Vice President of the Federal Council becomes the Confederation President the following year.

As you can see, the people who run Switzerland are not directly elected by the people. As I said, to become a member of the federal executive it is only necessary to be elected to the position by the Federal Assembly (Parliament). The only requirement to become elected is that the person must be able to vote in Swiss elections but, as I said, in practice they are politicians.

On paper, this is less democratic than what happens in most representative democracies. In fact, to elect the President, the US, or France practice a form of direct democracy; the people elect the President.

In other representative democracies, in stable countries, the situation is not as extreme as in the US but they do have a political establishment. This establishment includes politicians on Left and the Right. They also have powerful lobbies which pursue their own interests, interests that often do not coincide with the interests of the majority of citizens.

In Switzerland they have a political establishment, but do not have a “political Swamp”, which seems to exist to benefit politicians on the Right and the Left as a class. The “Swamp” also benefits the lobbies.

I think the key factor that prevents those problems in Switzerland is the power of the Swiss people to intervene directly, at any time, not just during elections, to use the mechanisms of initiatives and referendums. With these mechanisms Swiss voters control the decisions of politicians and also introduce new legislation.

The conclusion is: you can have any democratic system you want but you need citizens with direct power to control the power of politicians and lobbies.

Citizens, taxpayers, voters, must have the power to intervene in the political process at any time. They must be able to do so to reject or approve the decisions elected politicians make and also to make other changes.

Tomorrow I will post what Doris Leuthard Wrote


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