Switzerland, where four political parties have divided up a consensual executive amongst themselves by a fixed quota from 1959 till 2003, and with only one minor adjustment in that latter year, has seen some high drama and “dissensus” this week.
As noted in The Independent, Christoph Blocher of the nationalist Swiss Peoples party (SVP) was ousted from the cabinet by a deal struck by the other parties as the Executive Council was being bargained. The SVP won the plurality of the votes in the recent parliamentary elections, with 29%. So, given Switzerland’s consensus model, it is highly unusual that its leader would not be granted a seat, along with one party colleague on the 7-member Council.
But following a late-night plotting session, the SVP’s rivals yesterday proposed a more moderate SVP politician Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to run against Mr Blocher [in the formal vote taken in parliament].
The SVP responded by announcing it will go into opposition.
Widmer-Schlumpf will remain in the Council, but the IHT reports that “the party promptly withdrew its support from her and another Federal Council member from her party, Samuel Schmid, leaving two of the cabinet’s seven members without a parliamentary base.”
Switzerland, unique in Europe1, does not have a cabinet dependent on parliamentary confidence. Rather, the parliament elects the Executive Council to a fixed term. Thus the Swiss form of government is neither parliamentary nor presidential (nor semi-presidential).
This is certainly a new phase in Swiss politics, and a highly significant one for comparative politics, given the centrality of the Swiss “Magic Formula” of power sharing to the literature on consociational democracy.
And, just to continue the Swiss status as being “unusual” among the democracies, it will now be one of the very rare cases in which the largest party in parliament will be in opposition2. Something to watch…