Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

People’s Party takes aim at “magic formula”

Switzerland's populist right-wing People's Party has used Ruth Dreifuss's resignation to accelerate its demand for an extra seat in the country's multi-party cabinet.

The make-up of Switzerland’s seven-member cabinet is determined by convention dating to the 1950s, commonly known as “the magic formula”.

That formula – which helps ensure the Swiss government maintains a representative balance between the country’s different political and linguistic blocks – is under fire by the People’s Party, which has seen its share of the national vote grow substantially in recent years.

Although the cabinet structure is unlikely to be altered ahead of next year’s federal elections, political jockeying began in summer, around the time rumours of Dreifuss’s resignation surfaced.

Political establishment on notice

The People’s Party on Monday announced it would contest Dreifuss’s cabinet seat – a widely-anticipated move that is seen as having virtually no chance of success.

The reason is that Dreifuss’s position is one of two “reserved” for the Social Democrats, Switzerland’s biggest party by national vote.

The “magic formula” also allocates two cabinet posts each to the centre-right Radical Party and the Christian Democrats, which have seen their popular vote decline in recent years.

By contrast, the People’s Party currently holds one seat – something it says no longer reflects its status as Switzerland’s second-biggest party by parliamentary representation.

Gerold Bührer, the president of the Radical Party, branded the People’s Party’s cabinet candidature as “political theatre”, indicating his group would not support the move.

Similarly, the Christian Democrats reasserted their view that two Social Democrat seats in cabinet was a foregone conclusion.

Those declarations make any proposed change to the cabinet formula an academic issue – changes to its structure can only occur on the back of multi-party agreement.

Setting the stage for 2003

While the People’s Party claims it is not targeting any one of Switzerland’s three other cabinet parties for a new seat, most observers believe the Christian Democrats are the most vulnerable.

The defining catalyst for reform is likely to be next year’s general elections, at which the People’s Party will attempt to buttress its calls for cabinet reform with a strong popular vote.

Candidates for the Swiss cabinet are usually, but not exclusively, drawn from parliamentary ranks.

Language also plays an important role in the body’s makeup. Theoretically, four of the seven seats belong to “Latin speakers” – either from the French or Italian speaking Switzerland. The remaining three seats go to German speakers.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR