SEPARATION OF POWERS
The separation of powers prevents a concentration of power in individual people or institutions and helps to stop any abuse of power. Power is divided between the three branches of state, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. No single person can belong to more than one of the three branches of state at any one time. Switzerland introduced the separation of powers with the new federal state in 1848.
The Federal Council is the Swiss government. It deals with the ongoing task of governing the country and implements the laws and other decisions adopted by parliament. Each of the seven members of the Federal Council is head of one of the seven federal departments, which together make up the Federal Administration.
Parliament comprises the National Council and the Council of States. The two councils have equal powers; together they form the United Federal Assembly. Parliament enacts legislation and monitors the activities of the Federal Council and the Federal Supreme Court.
The Federal Supreme Court is Switzerland’s highest court. Its task is to ensure the uniform application of the law and to uphold the rights of ordinary people. As the highest court of appeal, it also rules on disputes between individuals and the state or between the Confederation and the cantons.
In Switzerland, around 5.5 million men and women can vote in federal elections. Young people under the age of 18 and foreign nationals do not have the right to vote at federal level.
Swiss voters elect the Parliament (the legislature). This makes the electorate Switzerland’s supreme political body. The National Council represents the entire population, while the Council of States represents the 26 cantons. Federal elections are held every four years.
Parliament elects the members of various bodies:
- the executive: the seven members of the Federal Council and the Federal Chancellor. Their term of office is four years and they may be re-elected.
- the judiciary: the President of the Federal Supreme Court and the judges of the Federal Supreme Court and the three federal courts of first instance.
- the Attorney General of Switzerland: The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland investigates and prosecutes federal offences, such as those involving explosives and espionage, as well as offences committed by federal employees in the course of their duties.
Parliament supervises the Federal Council and the Federal Administration, the federal courts and the Office of the Attorney General. The members of parliament are elected, and may be held to account, by the People.