Elections to the Federal Assembly are held
every four years. Voters aim to elect the 246 members of parliament that best
represent their views. They have a large number of candidates from a wide range
of parties from which to choose.
Elections to the National Council
to the National Council are federal elections. The provisions of the Federal
Act on Political Rights apply in all cantons.
Right to vote and to be elected
citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote: not only can they vote for the
members of the National Council (right to vote), they can also stand for
election to the National Council (right to be elected).
Elections based on proportional representation
Elections to the National Council in
most cantons are based on a system of proportional representation: seats are
allocated in proportion to the number of votes each party or party list receives.
election guide explains how to complete and return the official ballot papers
correctly in cantons with more than one seat in the National Council. Every
voter is sent the guide, which is also available online.
recent federal elections were held on 20 October 2019.
elections to the National Council and (in the most cantons) the Council of
States will be held on
22 October 2023.
Elections to the Council of States
to the Council of States are governed by cantonal law: each canton has its own
rules on who is eligible to vote, when elections are held, what the election
procedure is and how ballot papers are completed. However, the following rules
are the same in all 26 cantons: elections to the Council of States are held
every four years and candidates for election to the Council of States must be
at least 18 years old and hold Swiss citizenship.
Elections based on the simple majority system
Elections to the Council of States in
almost every canton are based on the simple majority system: the person who receives
the most votes is elected.
- Absolute majority: the person who receives
more than half of all the votes cast is elected.
- Relative majority: the person who receives
more votes than any of the other candidates is elected.
Examples of cantonal differences
In the canton
of Glarus, Swiss citizens aged 16 and 17 can also vote in elections to the
Council of States. Candidates for the Council of States must be under the age
of 65. In Appenzell Innerrhoden, voters elect their member of the Council of
States at an outdoor assembly (‘the Landsgemeinde’), which is always held in
the April before the elections to the National Council. In the cantons of Jura and Neuchatel, a system of proportional
representation is used, while in the other cantons the simple majority system applies. Swiss citizens living abroad are only eligible to vote in certain cantons.
Elections are decisive
Even in Switzerland
most issues are decided by Parliament or the government. However, between the
elections in 2015 and 2019, the electorate was called on to vote on 33 specific
proposals. In the same period, Parliament passed 464 laws, including 134 federal acts and 94 federal
decrees. It also elected the government, the members of the federal
courts and the Attorney General.
Parties from left to right
In the elections to the Swiss Parliament, there
are quite a number of parties to choose from, some very different from others. They
differ from each other
in their views on the role of the state, society and the economy.
left-wing parties (SP, the Greens) favour a highly developed social state,
right-of-centre parties (FDP,
SVP) advocate a liberal economic policy and personal responsibility.
Certain political issues are neither distinctly left nor right-wing, i.e.
environmental protection, the question of how open Switzerland should be
towards the EU and international organisations, and issues regarding liberal
values (e.g. same-sex partnerships). Depending on the issue, centre parties (e.g. ‘The Centre’, previously
the CVP) will cooperate with either left or right-wing parties.
parties help to form political opinion, nominate candidates for public office
and launch initiatives and referendums. Parties differ from each another in
their views on the role of the state, society and the economy
What does ‘left-wing’ mean?
- A strong social state that levels social disparities
- Emphasis on workers’ interests
- Price controls, public services
- More peace policy, less military
What does ‘right-wing’ mean?
- Freedom and personal responsibility; the state intervenes
only where absolutely necessary
- Emphasis on employers’ interests
- Free enterprise, economic incentives
- Strong national defence
Party strengths (shares of the vote in elections to the National Council 2019)