Home Living in Switzerland Government & Law A guide to Switzerland’s government and political system
Last update on 20/02/2023
Written by CIA World Factbook

Switzerland is home to fairly autonomous cantons, four national languages, and the world’s strongest tradition of direct democracy. Learn more about the political parties and the government of Switzerland.

Country name:
Conventional long form: Swiss Confederation
Conventional short form: Switzerland

Local long form:

Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (German);
Confederation Suisse (French);
Confederazione Svizzera (Italian);
Confederaziun Svizra (Romansh).

Local short form:

Schweiz (German);
Suisse (French);
Svizzera (Italian);
Svizra (Romansh).

Switzerland’s government type: Formally a confederation but similar in structure to a federal republic.

Capital: Bern
Geographic coordinates: 46 57 N, 7 26 E
Time zone: UTC plus 1 hr.
Daylight saving time: Plus 1hr (UTC plus 2 hrs.).  Begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October which is in alignment with its neighboring countries.

Swiss administrative divisions

26 cantons (cantons, singular – canton in French; cantoni, singular – cantone in Italian; Kantone, singular – Kanton in German); Aargau, Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden, Appenzell Inner-Rhoden, Basel-Landschaft, Basel-Stadt, Bern, Fribourg, Geneve, Glarus, Graubunden, Jura, Luzern, Neuchatel, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Sankt Gallen, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Solothurn, Thurgau, Ticino, Uri, Valais, Vaud, Zug, Zurich.
N.B. Six of the cantons, namely Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden, Appenzell-Inner-Rhoden, Basel-Landschaft, Basel-Stadt, Nidwalden, Obwalden, are referred to as half cantons because they elect only one member to the Council of States and, in popular referenda where a majority of popular votes and a majority of cantonal votes are required, these six cantons only have a half vote.

A few basic facts about Switzerland

Dependent areas: None.

Independence: Founding of the Swiss Confederation on 1 August, 1291.

National holiday: 1 August. (Founding of the Swiss Confederation in 1291).

Constitution: Revision of the Constitution of 1874 approved by the Federal Parliament 18 December 1998, adopted by referendum 18 April 1999 and officially entered into force on 1 January 2000.

Legal system: Civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts, except for federal decrees of a general obligatory character.

The Swiss political system

Executive branch:
Chief of state: President of the Swiss Confederation Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf; Vice President Ueli Maurer;
N.B. The president and vice president were elected to office on 14 December 2011 and took office 1 January 2012.  The president is both the chief of state and the head of government representing the Federal Council which is the formal chief of state and head of government whose council members, rotating in one-year terms as federal president, represent the Council.

Head of government: President of the Swiss Confederation Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf; Vice President Ueli Maurer;

Cabinet: Federal Council or Bundesrat (in German), Conseil Federal (in French), Consiglio Federale (in Italian) is elected by the Federal Assembly usually from among its members for a four-year term.

Elections: President and vice president are elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for a one-year term; they may not serve consecutive terms.  Election was last held on 14 December 2011 with the next to be held in early December 2012.

Election results: Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf elected president. Number of Federal Assembly votes 179 out of 239 with Ueli Maurer elected as vice president.

Legislative branch:
Bicameral Federal Assembly or Bundesversammlung (in German), Assemblée Federale (in French), Assemblea Federale (in Italian) which consists of the Council of States or Staenderat (in German), Conseil des Etats (in French), Consiglio degli Stati (in Italian) with 46 seats.  Membership consists of two representatives from each canton and 1 from each half canton with each member serving four-year terms.
National Council or Nationalrat (in German), Conseil National (in French), Consiglio Nazionale (in Italian) (200 seats; members elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation serve four-year terms).

Swiss elections

Council of States, last held in most cantons on 23 October 2011 (each canton determines when the next election will be held);
National Council, last held on 23 October 2011 with the next to be held in October 2015.

Election results:
Council of States:
Percent of vote by party: N/A;
Seats by party: CVP 13, FDP 11, SVP 5, SPS 11, other 6;
National Council:
Percent of vote by party: SVP 26.6%, SPS 18.7%, FDP 15.1%, CVP 12.3%, Greens 8.4%, GLP 5.4%, BDP 5.4%, other 8.1%;
Seats by party: SVP 54, SPS 46, FDP 30, CVP 28, Green Party 15, GLP 12, BDP 9, other small parties 6.

Judicial branch: Federal Supreme Court with judges elected for six-year terms by the Federal Assembly.

Swiss political parties and leaders

Christian Democratic People’s Party (Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz or CVP, Parti Democrate-Chretien Suisse or PDC, Partito Popolare Democratico Svizzero or PPD, Partida Cristiandemocratica dalla Svizra or PCD) (Christophe Darbellay); Conservative Democratic Party (Buergerlich-Demokratische Partei Schweiz or BDP, Parti Bourgeois Democratique Suisse or PBD, Partito Borghese Democratico Svizzero or PBD, Partido burgais democratica Svizera or (PBD)) (Hans Grunder); Free Democratic Party or FDP.The Liberals (FDP.Die Liberalen, PLR.Les Liberaux-Radicaux, PLR.I Liberali, Ils Liberals) (Fulvio Pelli); Green Liberal Party (Grunliberale or GLP, Parti vert liberale or PVL, Partito Verde-Liberale or PVL, Partida Verde Liberale or PVL) (Martin Baumle); Green Party (Gruene Partei der Schweiz or Gruene, Parti Ecologiste Suisse or Les Verts, Partito Ecologista Svizzero or I Verdi, Partida Ecologica Svizra or La Verda) (Ueli Leuenberger); Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz or SPS, Parti Socialiste Suisse or PSS, Partito Socialista Svizzero or PSS, Partida Socialdemocratica de la Svizra or PSS) (Christian Levrat); Swiss People’s Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei or SVP, Union Democratique du Centre or UDC, Unione Democratica di Centro or UDC, Uniun Democratica dal Centre or UDC) (Toni Brunner); and other minor parties

Flag description: Red square with a bold, equilateral white cross in the centre that does not extend to the edges of the flag.  Various medieval legends purport to describe the origin of the flag.  A white cross used as identification for troops of the Swiss Confederation is first attested at the Battle of Laupen in 1339.

National anthem: Name: “Schweizerpsalm” (German) “Cantique Suisse” (French) “Salmo svizzero,” (Italian) “Psalm svizzer” (Romansh) (Swiss Psalm).