Constitution and Democracy

Ruth Dreifuss (1940), 1 999 die erste Präsidentin der Schweiz, Foto: wikipedia.

The Presidency

The main governmental provisions are contained in Articles 174-179 of the Federal Constitution.

These describe the appointment and number of members of the government (seven), Their term of office (four years), the principles of collegiality and equality, the tasks and appointment of the Federal Chancellery,  and the tasks and appointment of the Head of State.

The President

The President and the Vice-President are mentioned in Art. 176 of the Federal Constitution.

The President and the Vice-President (Vize) Bundespräsident(in) in German/ la (vice)-présidente or le (vice-)président in French/  il (vice) presidente in Italian / and  la (vice) presidenta/il (vice) president in Romansh) are chosen by the united assembly of both chambers (the National Council and the Council of States) for A period of one year. Re-election is possible, but not consecutively.

Since 1890, the election has been based on seniority (Anciennitätsprinzip).  The longest-serving member of the Government is first appointed as Vice-President for one year and, the following year, as President (Rotationsprinzip).

The President does preside over the Government, but only as primus/prima inter pares (collegiality and equality principles). She/He is therefore not Prime Minister nor First Minister.

The main presidential role consists in the coordination and preparation of the Government’s meetings, and in fostering cooperation and coordination between and with the (seven) departments and both chambers of Parliament.

Serving as a minister of one of the seven federal departments, the President also maintains contact with the cantons.

The President represents the Government and the country on occasions at home and abroad. In terms of protocol,  the Presidency is the highest office in the country.


The President can leave a mark on the Government’s policy and attitude,  depending on his/her charisma, personality, and interest.

In foreign contacts and, for example, in his/her role as a mediator in (inter) national conflicts, tensions or disputes, the President can have a certain impact,  as the (recent) past has shown.


The absence of an elected Head of State for four, ten or sometimes even sixteen years gives Swiss politics a permanent dynamic.  It does not lead to rigidity, (parliamentary) clientele formation and patronage networks.

A disadvantage is the lack of an institution with prestige, tradition and (international) stature.