Swiss voters went to the polls to elect a new parliament Sunday, the composition of which will help determine the makeup of the seven-member Federal Council in December.
Swiss politics are marked by a very weak executive and a strong tradition of consensus among the political parties. The three largest political parties have typically each held two seats in the Federal Council, with the last seat going to the fourth-largest. Each member of the cabinet then takes turns as the Swiss president, with each term lasting just one year.
….the SVP won nearly 27% of the vote, down from 29% four years ago, but it remained the single largest party. A new, breakaway conservative party, the Conservative Democrats, won 5.4%. Social Democrats and Liberals were the second- and third-largest parties respectively, with 19% and 15% of the projected vote.
Switzerland has been an island of prosperity over the past couple of years, with unemployment of just 2.8%, solid public finances and healthy growth.
“Switzerland has been an island of prosperity” — it is not hard to figure out why. With one change in composition of their seven-member Federal Council in the last 50 years, Switzerland is the most stable democracy on the planet, and certainly one of the most prosperous. Their leaders are able to focus on long-term goals and stability without disruption from a four or five-year election cycle.
Oppositional, winner-takes-all democracies as in the US, UK and most Western countries are continually disrupted by elections, changes in government and changes in direction. Their leaders are focused almost exclusively on the next election, with little thought given to long-term consequences. Charles De Gaulle expressed his frustration at being an ally of the US, equating it to sharing a lifeboat with an elephant. Every time they shift position there is a mad scramble to stay afloat.
Unless you have a fairly homogeneous population with a large swing vote, you are likely to end up with some form of coalition government. Italy used to be the prime example but has now been joined by the UK, Germany and Australia. The danger is that small minorities can exert inordinate power over the incumbent government if they hold the balance of power. And you have little guarantee of stability, with coalitions prone to splinter and re-form.
Unfortunately the present system is entrenched, with so many vested interests it will be difficult to change. But that is no reason why new democracies such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya should be encouraged to follow the same path. They have a simple choice: who do you want to resemble — Italy or Switzerland?