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Democracy league Opaque political financing blights Swiss democracy rating

Banknotes in envelope

The Swiss government and parliament believe the identity of party donaters should remain hidden.

(Gaetan Bally / Keystone)

Once again, the Swiss democratic system has received poor marks for refusing to identify the deep pockets that finance political parties. This time the condemnation comes from a German democracy barometer, which otherwise bestows a good score on Switzerland.

According to the Bertelsmann Foundation ‘Sustainable Governance Indicatorsexternal link’ (SGI), Switzerland has is fifth healthiest democracy of 41 developed countries in the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Switzerland was awarded the highest score of 10 in four areas: direct democracy, the fair treatment of registered candidates and parties during elections, the electoral process for citizens and access to information.

Grafik mit den Noten der Schweiz in vier Demokratie-Bereichen

(Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI))

But many observers feel that a lack of access to information on political party donors has been an Achilles heel of Switzerland for some time. The Bertelsmann Foundation agrees, dishing out the worst score of 1 in this category.

Without this handicap, Switzerland might leapfrog Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark in the democracy league table. Germany is tied with Switzerland in fifth place, according to the SGI formula.

The index suggests that democratic standards have been in retreat in 26 of the 41 industrialised nations since the first survey in 2011. According to the authors, this is due to increasing polarisation caused by emerging populism and deficits in political control. 

For decades, the Swiss government and parliament have been fending off criticism about opaque political party coffers. However, a new dynamic has been sparked at grassroots level. A year ago, a cross-party committee submitted a popular initiative demanding greater transparency in political financing. The voting date has not yet been set.

And in March of this year, citizens in the cantons of Fribourg and Schwyz said yes to two cantonal popular initiatives demanding financial transparency of political parties. The cantons of Geneva, Ticino and Neuchâtel already have such transparency in place.

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