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Candidate search Local Swiss political party launches primaries

The Graubünden branch of the Social Democratics is the first Swiss party to choose its candidate for the cantonal government elections in primaries. The picture shows a ballot box in the Medels municipality


The leftwing Social Democratic Party plans to hold primaries this year to choose its candidate for the 2018 government elections in canton Graubünden. Is this move – a first for Swiss politics - a step towards more democracy or just a publicity stunt?

Unlike the United States, where the issue of primariesexternal link has been given a new impetus following the election of President Donald Trump, candidates for cantonal or local governments in Switzerland are selected by the local party delegates or leaders.

The Graubünden chapter of the Social Democratic Party is breaking new ground by having residents over the age of 16 choose their favourite candidate in an election set for June.

The party, which holds one seat in the five-member cantonal government, argues that primaries make the election procedure more democratic by giving grassroots a greater say.

Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, professor of comparative politics at Bern University, disagrees with such simplified reasoning.

“Above all, it’s an alternative option to choose a candidate,” she says. This way of nominating a candidate also has its drawbacks, according to Stadelmann-Steffen.

A party might be better qualified to evaluate whether a candidate is suited for a political post while a system with primaries resembles election campaigning.

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“The skills of a candidate to run a campaign are not necessarily the same as his or her aptitude for a political mandate,” she adds.

Positive impact

The decision by the Social Democrats is hardly free of selfish motives. Primaries are also a way of boosting their public image.

“The idea [of primaries] certainly has a positive impact on the campaign,” Stadelmann-Steffen says. “The party can present itself as open and innovative.”

This can be all more important as it is increasingly popular to be in a campaign mode all year round and help insure to attract public attention, she adds.

Stadelmann-Steffen says primaries are consistent with a party strategy.

“In the best case scenario, this nomination procedure produces a candidate who will be popular beyond party rank and files,” she continues.


The online primaries are scheduled for June, provided the cantonal party delegates approve the idea at a meeting on March 25. They also choose the shortlist of possible candidates.

Party members and other registered supporters receive the necessary material for the primaries through a postal delivery by June 6.

Others wishing to take part have to register online by the end of May.

The envelope containing the vote for the favourite candidate must be sent to the Graubünden Social Democratic Party headquarters by the end of June.

Are primaries more than democratic than nominations by a party? Tell us what you think. 

Adapted from German by Urs Geiser,


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