Switzerland's political system

The People are the highest political authority in the Swiss state. This fundamental principle characterises the entire Swiss political system. Swiss citizens can bring their opinions to bear at federal, cantonal and communal levels: they can vote on a wide variety of issues and elect their representatives to the Federal Assembly.

A man enters the polling station at the town hall in Basel to vote.

Direct democracy

No other country gives its citizens more opportunities to express their views in popular votes on more issues than in Switzerland. The People are sovereign, the highest political authority in the land. All Swiss citizens with full legal capacity – over 5.2 million men and women - have the right to vote.


The cantonal coats of arms in the Federal Palace

Three political levels

Politics plays out at three levels: the Confederation, the cantons and the communes can each decide autonomously on certain matters. The principle of subsidiarity applies: a higher authority should only perform tasks that cannot be performed by a lower authority.


Billboards promote various political parties for the federal election in Bern in 2011.

Political parties

Switzerland has a wide range of political parties: some parties are represented in the Federal Assembly, while others exist only in the communes or cantons. Most parties in Switzerland are associations, funded primarily by membership contributions and donations.


Three branches of state

Switzerland's political system is structured according to the principle of the separation of powers. The powers of state are divided among three independent branches: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

Collection of signatures for an initiative

Rights to have a say

In addition to having the right to vote on proposals and to elect representatives, Swiss citizens have the right to have their say at all three levels of state, and can therefore have a considerable influence on political matters. For example, they can launch an initiative or request a referendum, or submit a petition.


The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide

‘The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide’ contains information about Switzerland’s political system, the administration and its judicial authorities. In addition to explaining the workings of the state it also provides an insight into the activities of the Federal Administration. ‘The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide’ is available as a brochure and as an app for tablets and smartphones.

The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide

Last modification 20.05.2016

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