Period IV newsletter

Schweizerische Politiker, Schriftsteller, Denker und andere historische Figuren. Links im Fenster Edward Gibbon. Bild Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum Prangins. Foto: TES.

Swiss Democracy

Switzerland’s political system is still considered a particular case among modern democracies. The origin of this lies in a multitude of languages, relatively independent cantons, social structures and historical development. These circumstances have led to the emergence of a unique political system characterised by far-reaching federalism, a robust direct democracy, striving for compromise and participating citizens and highly developed elements of horizontal and vertical power-sharing.

As one of the first Republican (male) democracies in Europe and as the first modern federal state, the country already played a pioneering role in the nineteenth century, although the participation of women was introduced late (but earlier at cantonal level). It has an extraordinary direct-democratic system, which is neither purely parliamentary nor purely presidential. The direct control of the citizens, the so-called direct democracy, plays an important role. In the course of globalisation and Europeanisation, the importance of the nation-state has diminished with the transfer of powers. That also leads to fewer opportunities for citizens and local authorities to exert influence, legitimacy decreases and the proportion of dissatisfied, politically disillusioned and protest voters increases.

Direct democracy does not always give the right or desired results, but the system never fails. The establishment respects democracy, the rule of law and citizens’ decisions, there is relatively little corruption, and the economy is innovative, competitive and international. The Swiss system is not perfect, but the country respects its citizens and the rule of law. The Swiss may not be “le peuple le plus heureux du monde” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762 or the United Nations, 2015), but the system and institutions function rather well. (Source: A. Vatter, Switzerland’s political system, Baden-Baden, 2016).