Jump to content
Your browser is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this websites. Learn how to update your browser[Close]

Compulsory service

Tapped for public office, but unwilling to serve

 See in other languages: 6  Languages: 6
The town of Altdorf in the central Swiss canton of Uri where citizens can be obliged by law to serve in a local council (Keystone)

The town of Altdorf in the central Swiss canton of Uri where citizens can be obliged by law to serve in a local council


A growing number of Swiss municipalities have been struggling to find enough candidates that are willing to stand for political office, and as a last resort some of them have been exercising a little-known power that they wield – the ability to force people into public service.

Switzerland's tradition of non-professional, “militia” politics at the local, cantonal and national levels. It is a system that largely depends on the voluntary participation of its citizens.

When that doesn’t happen, communities can force citizens to serve on a local council.

Municipalities with between 5,000 to 10,000 residents are particularly hard hit by the declining interest of citizens to be active as part-time members of the local authorities, says political scientist Claude Longchamp.

He blames the problem on the stress of modern lifestyles. As people become more mobile, the workplace is rarely close to where people live, giving people less time to participate in politics among Switzerland’s more than 2,300 municipalities – a pillar of the three-tier local, cantonal and federal political structure.

In eight of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, however, municipalities have the power to appoint a citizen against his or her will to sit on a school committee, for instance, or serve on a local council. In one of these cantons, Schaffhausen, voting is also compulsory.

Voters in canton Uri recently decided to maintain the mandatory political service and also set a fine of CHF5,000 ($5,080) for those that refuse to accept the mandate.


The story of Johanna Tschumi is a prime example. She was elected to the local council of the village of Bauen in central Switzerland in 2008, even though she was not a candidate for the position.

The local authorities refused to accept the professional and health reasons she cited for being unwilling to serve. In the end, Tschumi had to resort to a subterfuge – involving a temporary change in her postal address.

The result was that other newly-elected citizens followed her example and Bauen, a small village with about 150 residents on the southern end of Lake Lucerne, had no functioning local government for a while.

If you want to know how the story ended, read the original text in German by swissinfo’s Sibilla Bondolfi.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch


All rights reserved. The content of the website by swissinfo.ch is copyrighted. It is intended for private use only. Any other use of the website content beyond the use stipulated above, particularly the distribution, modification, transmission, storage and copying requires prior written consent of swissinfo.ch. Should you be interested in any such use of the website content, please contact us via contact@swissinfo.ch.

As regards the use for private purposes, it is only permitted to use a hyperlink to specific content, and to place it on your own website or a website of third parties. The swissinfo.ch website content may only be embedded in an ad-free environment without any modifications. Specifically applying to all software, folders, data and their content provided for download by the swissinfo.ch website, a basic, non-exclusive and non-transferable license is granted that is restricted to the one-time downloading and saving of said data on private devices. All other rights remain the property of swissinfo.ch. In particular, any sale or commercial use of these data is prohibited.