Even Swiss direct democracy can improve!

For example, they could directly elect the members of the Swiss executive, the Federal Council.

It is odd that in a direct democracy the people do not elect the executive. Even odder is that in most representative democracies, all of them less democratic than Switzerland, the people do elect the executive.

In Switzerland, the Swiss parliament, the politicians, elect the executive. It is not very democratic to leave the people out of the decision.

But the Swiss people do not seem too bothered by such an undemocratic way of electing the executive.

Perhaps it is because, despite what the Swiss Government website states: “The Federal Council is the highest executive authority in the country”, the highest executive authority in Switzerland is the people, not the Federal Council or even the Parliament.

In Switzerland, the people have more authority than the executive, the legislative, and in constitutional issues, than the Supreme Court.

The Federal Council is the highest executive authority, but is always subject to the decision of the Swiss people. The Swiss people can change the way the Federal Council is elected; no Parliament, no Senate, no Constitutional Court, no Supreme Court, can stop them.

They can do it by collecting 100 000 signatures in less than 18 months and putting the proposal to a national vote.

But there is something else in Switzerland that, on paper, is not democratic either; the major political parties have a long-standing agreement to be represented in the Federal Council in proportion to the number of seats they hold. The people have no say on that either.

Right now, this is the composition of the Swiss Federal Council:

Social Democrats: 2 members.

Swiss People’s Party: 2 members.

The Liberal Party: 2 members.

Christian Democrats: 1 member.

In other democracies, there could be are revolution if the politicians alone decided who will form the executive. Many would see that as extreme corruption; “the politicians deciding who, among themselves, will run the country? No way!”. They would take to the streets. The French would probably be the first. Yet the French put up with a system that, overall, is far less democratic than Switzerland’s, go figure!

Despite those formally undemocratic practices, in Switzerland, there is no desire for revolution. I believe it is because the Swiss people control the executive and the legislative through their power to decide on anything of importance. On any issue, the Swiss people have the power to prevail.

Other factors make it relatively easy for the Swiss people to accept the current way to elect the executive.

For example, the President of Switzerland does not exist as an executive position comparable to the US President, the French President, the UK Prime Minister or the German Federal Chancellor, the Swiss president has far less power within the executive itself. The Swiss President is one of the seven members of the Federal Council. The Presidency rotates yearly among the seven members.

In Switzerland, you have an executive with less power than the people and a president with no power over other members of the executive.

In the Swiss Federal Council, all decisions are collective decisions, not always unanimous.  The vote of the President counts for two, this is the only situation where the president has “more authority”.

Because the decisions of the Council are collective decisions; every member of the Council has to “forget” about loyalty to his or her party. This may also help the Swiss people accept that the political parties elect the Federal Council; we could the decisions are “less political”.

The Federal Council and the political parties also know they can not have rigid “ideological” (or self-interest) positions; they need to accommodate the diverse interests of most of the voters they represent.

Because individual authority in the Swiss Federal Council does not exist, the Federal Council is the Collective Head of State. Only on trips abroad does the rotating President of the Council represent the Swiss Federation. In Switzerland, it is the seven who are “the CEO” of Switzerland.

While the Swiss people are the final decision-makers on everything of importance to them, the current system leaves room for lobbies to perhaps unduly influence the Federal Council, and also the Swiss Parliament, in matters that perhaps do not attract the attention of most of the people.

The Swiss system can be more democratic, but the Swiss people only have to look at representative democracies around them, and beyond, to see they have a democracy that is more democratic than any other.

 

 

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