Switzerland is a “Semi-Direct Democratic Federal Republic”, a system combining elements of both direct and representative democracy.
Switzerland is composed of 26 states, known as cantons. The cantons are all regions that, at some point before the 1848 signing of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, operated as a sovereign administration. Each canton has control over its own healthcare, welfare, law enforcement, public education, and taxation.
The Swiss Parliament, the Federal Assembly, is composed of two houses, the Council of States, and the National Council. The National Council is the lower chamber, composed of 200 seats, with seats being split between the cantons proportionally based upon population. The Council of States is the upper chamber, composed of 46 seats, with some cantons having 1 seat and others having 2. Both chambers are equal in terms of power. Elections are held for the public to decide the membership of both houses every four years.
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Switzerland does not have a head of state in the traditional sense, instead the members of the Federal Council act as a “collective presidency”. The Federal Council is composed of 7 members, elected by the Federal Assembly on four-year terms. A “President of the Swiss Confederation” is elected by the Federal Assembly on a one-year term, but in practice it has become convention for this office to cycle between the council members annually – a tradition enabled by the Federal Council being one of the most stable elected bodies, with regards to its membership, in the world; only four incumbent members failed to be re-elected over the past 150 years. Domestically, the role of the president is a largely ceremonial one, to act as a chairman and spokesperson for the Council. Internationally the President takes on a bigger role, acting as a representative to other nations for the purpose of diplomacy. Each member of the Council administrates a particular sphere of Swiss society, akin to the different UK cabinet ministers.
The members of the Federal Council come from different parties, with the overall council party-composition typically remaining the same even when new members are elected. Between 1959 and 2003 the Council followed the so-called “magic formula”; 2 members from the centre-right Christian Democratic People’s Party; 2 from the left-wing Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, 2 from the centre-right FDP.The Liberals, and 1 from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. In 2003 the Swiss People’s Party received an additional seat while the Christian Democratic People’s Party lost one of theirs.