Following the constitution of 1874, most recently amended
in 2000, Switzerland is a Confederate republic. The regime
is democratic, but not parliamentary. Switzerland's
political system is considered one of the most stable in the
Legislative, appropriating - and in some respects,
executive power has been added to the popularly elected
Federal Assembly (ty. Bundesversammlung, fr.
Assemblé Fédérale). This consists of two equal
chambers, a stenderrĺd (Ständerat/Conseil des États)
and a National Council (Nationalrat/Conseil National).
The Standing Council has 46 members, elected according to
slightly different rules for four years, two from each
canton and one from each canton. The National Council has
200 members; they are chosen for four years from relatively
equal circles and according to the ratio principle. The
Standing Council, which is not elected by the population, is
often given a slightly different and more conservative
composition than the National Council. Federal laws must be
passed by both chambers.
The voting age is 18 years. The women first got the right
to vote in 1971 at national elections. At the cantonal
level, female suffrage was introduced at various times, but
from 1991 - after a decision in the Supreme Court of
Switzerland - general female suffrage was also at local
elections in Switzerland. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how SZ can stand for Switzerland.
By constitutional and legislative amendments, referendums
can be held. Voters are also given the opportunity to
initiate constitutional amendments. In this way, Switzerland
has a stronger element of direct democracy than any other
The government, called the Federal Council (Bundesrat
/ Conseil Fédéral), is elected by the overall Federal
Assembly according to proportionate principles. The Federal
Council has seven members who each manage their own
ministry. The Federal Assembly elects from among the seven,
for one year at a time, two members who hold the functions
of the country's president and vice-president. The Assembly
also appoints a Chancellor and a Vice-Chancellor, both of
whom attend the Federal Council, but without voting rights.
Although the Federal Council is responsible to the Federal
Assembly, it is stuck for the four years for which it has
Switzerland is regionally, linguistically and religiously
heterogeneous. However, when the country has been so
politically stable, it is because of the highly
decentralized system that allows each group to largely
From 1815 the country was divided into 22 cantons, three
of which were later divided into half cantons. The number of
cantons increased in 1979 to 23, when the French-speaking
and Catholic region of Jura gained canton status after,
among other things, a referendum in all the cantons of the
country. The cantons have their own constitutions and
extensive internal autonomy. The legislative authority is
usually assigned to elected regional assemblies; the
government is mostly elected directly by the electorate. At
the level of the canton, direct democracy also plays an
important role through referendums. In some cantons, voters
themselves constitute the legislative assembly.
At the local level, the municipalities (Gemeinde) have
considerable self-government. Only the largest cities have
elected assemblies. In the other municipalities, political
decisions are made directly at voter meetings. This is an
appropriate scheme in many parts of the country on the basis
of the many very small municipalities; the smallest
municipalities have a population of only 20-30 inhabitants.
Up to the turn of the millennium, Switzerland had around
3,000 municipalities. In recent years, however, the number
of municipalities - according to local decisions - has been
reduced somewhat, and by the turn of the year 2016/17 the
country had 2,255 municipalities. Canton Glarus has gone
farthest in the reduction in the number of municipalities.
The largest number of municipalities has the cantons Bern
and Vaud, with 352 and 318 respectively.
The judiciary is mainly a cantonal issue. However, there
is a federal federal court of 30 members, elected for six
years by the Federal Assembly. The Chief Justice is elected
from among the judges for two years by the Federal Assembly;
they cannot be re-elected. The cantons have slightly
different court systems.