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Cabinet refuses to be gagged

Deiss says ministers have a right to be heard Keystone

The Swiss cabinet says it will continue to speak out on issues in the run-up to nationwide votes.

This content was published on February 11, 2004 - 15:09

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party had earlier attacked government ministers for criticising some parliamentary decisions.

In Switzerland policies drawn up by the seven-strong cabinet, which is made up of ministers from the four main parties, can be amended by parliament.

The Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, said on Wednesday that the cabinet should be allowed to speak its mind and use all means, including interviews to the media, to explain its position on any issue.

Deiss said this included the right to voice reservations about amendments by parliament to government bills.

The People’s Party criticised the government for failing to throw its weight unreservedly behind controversial votes earlier this month.

Criticism of parliament

The cabinet takes common decisions, and details of its debates, including dissenting opinions by individual ministers, are not officially made public.

But in recent years, ministers have increasingly been speaking out.

The transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, supported a “yes” vote on upgrading the country’s road network, but it was an open secret that he was personally against the idea.

The issue was overwhelmingly voted down by the electorate on February 8.

It was also known that the new justice minister, Christoph Blocher, favoured a proposal to lock up violent offenders for life but publicly he toed the cabinet line, urging voters to reject the initiative.

Role of the cabinet

Georg Lutz, a political analyst at Bern University, says cabinet ministers may now be overstepping the mark.

“Over the past ten years there has been a shift towards a higher profile,” Lutz told swissinfo, “and it is a valid question whether the cabinet should continue this line.”

“It is not the role of the cabinet to lead a campaign, that is up to parliament and the groups involved. But there is no way the cabinet can be silenced - both parliament and voters expect the cabinet to voice its opinion,” he added.

A new case in point is a vote on controversial tax cuts for families, property owners and shareholders scheduled for May 16.

Parliament approved the cuts last year, after adding more tax breaks – against the wishes of the government.

Centre-left parties, trade unions and several cantons subsequently challenged the bill – a move which was welcomed by the cabinet.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland’s seven cabinet ministers are elected for a four-year term.

The seats are shared among the centre-right Radicals (2), rightwing People's Party (2), centre-left Social Democrats (2) and centre-right Christian Democrats (1).

Each year a cabinet minister also serves as Swiss president. The current Swiss president is Joseph Deiss.

The Swiss president heads the cabinet and is the top government representative.

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