Political system

How does Switzerland’s political system work?

Switzerland is based on a Federal Constitution (basic law of the state) and is therefore a constitutional state. Switzerland is a direct democracy, because the citizens play a major role in jointly deciding public matters. Switzerland’s direct democracy is regarded as an international example.


It is also federal because it consists of cantons, which are largely independent. Switzerland now has 26 cantons, six of which are half cantons. They differ in size and in terms of their inhabitants' language and religious denomination: Zurich, Bern, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden (half cantons), Glarus, Zug, Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft (half cantons), Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden (half cantons), St. Gallen, Grisons, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, Neuenburg, Geneva and Jura.


Swiss democracy is based on the Swiss Federal Constitution and recognises a division of powers. This means that the state’s powers are spread across several government bodies. At national level this appears as follows:


  • The Legislative branch (law-making power) is the national parliament. It is also known as the Bundesversammlung, or Federal Assembly, and consists of two chambers, the National Council and the Council of States. There are 200 members of the National Council who represent the people. The 46 members of the Council of States represent the 26 cantons in parliament.
  • The Executive branch (implementing power) is the Federal Council (national government). It has seven members that are superior to the Federal Administration. One of the Federal councillors also takes on the role of Federal President for one year.
  • At national level the Judicial branch (power to apply laws) consists of the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Criminal Court and the Federal Administrative Court.


Like the Federation, the 26 cantons in Switzerland also operate a division of powers, although its structure can differ. There are cantonal parliaments (not in every canton), cantonal governments and cantonal courts.