Political system

Switzerland is governed under a federal system at three levels: the Confederation, the cantons and the communes. Thanks to direct democracy, citizens can have their say directly on decisions at all political levels. This wide range of opportunities for democratic participation plays a vital role in a country as geographically, culturally and linguistically varied as Switzerland.

The Bundesplatz and its fountain in front of the Federal Palace in Bern.
At the Federal Palace in Bern, the seven federal councillors meet for discussions once a week, while Parliament holds sessions there four times a year. © Swiss Parliament

Since becoming a federal state in 1848, Switzerland has expanded the opportunities it provides for democratic participation. Various instruments are used to include minorities as much as possible – a vital political feature in a country with a range of languages and cultures.  The country's federal structure keeps the political process as close as possible to Swiss citizens. Of the three levels, the communes are the closest to the people, and are granted as many powers as possible. Powers are delegated upwards to the cantons and the Confederation only when this is necessary.

Switzerland is a direct democracy. Alongside the usual voting rights accorded in democracies, the Swiss people also have the right to vote on specific issues. Switzerland is governed by the Federal Council, a seven-member collegial body whose decisions are made by consensus. Federal councillors are elected by the United Federal Assembly, which consists of an upper and a lower chamber. The National Council is the lower house, and represents the people. The Council of States is the upper house, and represents the cantons. Delegates from eleven different parties set forward their views in the current parliament.

Political System – Facts and Figures

7 federal councillors, 26 cantonal governments, 2,172 communal councils and 5.5 million voters shape Switzerland's destiny.

Political parties

Switzerland's party-political landscape is balanced and relatively stable.

The Federal Council

The seven federal councillors govern the country as equals and in line with the principle of collegiality. They represent Switzerland's major political parties.


Autonomy as a guiding principle: each political entity is allocated as many tasks as possible before the next-highest entity takes over.

The Federal Assembly (Parliament)

Both the National Council and Council of States meet for three-week sessions four times a year. The two chambers sit together once a year to jointly elect the government and federal courts.

Direct Democracy

Three instruments form the basis of direct democracy in Switzerland: the popular initiative, the optional referendum, and the mandatory referendum.