Voters to decide on cabinet election reform

Published on, by Urs Geiser, July 7, 2011.

An initiative aimed at limiting parliament’s powers and letting citizens select members of the Swiss cabinet has collected enough signatures to force a nationwide vote.

The proposal, launched by members of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, also has its supporters among the centre-left. Opinions among political scientists are divided.  

Just over 110,000 signatures in support of the initiative were handed in by campaigners to the Federal Chancellery on Thursday.

People’s Party President Toni Brunner said if voters accepted the initiative it would represent the “completion of Switzerland’s direct democracy”.

“If they are elected by the people they are responsible to the people,” Brunner added.

However, the campaign to collect the necessary number of signatures was not exactly a smooth ride. It took almost the statutory 18 months for proponents to ascertain that they had won enough support … //

… Populist:

Daniel Bochsler, assistant professor at Zurich University’s department for political sciences, takes the middle ground.

“The initiative neither improves the quality of democracy, nor does it really give citizens a greater say in politics,” Bochsler said.

“And it does not turn the political system upside down.”

He believes that the People’s Party has no real interest in its own proposal. “They are using the initiative to exert pressure and try to intimidate rival parties.”

Bochsler argues that the Swiss system, based on consensus-seeking and compromise, has broad support among the people.

But election of government ministers by the people could work, as direct elections to the governments of the 26 cantons prove.

“Voters appear to appreciate political consensus. They want the parties to present candidates ready to make compromises. Controversial politicians such as People’s Party figurehead Blocher would be highly unlikely to win enough backing from citizens,” said Bochsler.

If opinion polls are anything to go by, the election of cabinet members by voters faces an uphill battle to win a majority.

An online survey carried out in February found only 40 per cent of respondents in favour of the initiative. (full text).

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