Switzerland renews its parliament

On 19 October the Swiss will go to the polls Keystone

Every four years, the Swiss have the chance to elect their parliamentary representatives.

This content was published on September 12, 2003 minutes

The elections – which take place on October 19 - are the most important event in the Swiss political calendar.

Voters will go to the polls to elect an entirely new House of Representatives and the majority of the Senate.

Unlike the United States or France, Switzerland has no presidential election, since the members of the cabinet or government are elected by parliament in a quasi-direct system of democracy.

Each canton represents a constituency and so residents can only vote on representatives in their home canton or state. This rule also applies to Swiss living abroad.

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives represents the entire Swiss population with seats allocated according to the number of people in each canton. The situation is re-evaluated every ten years on the basis of a national census.

The House has 200 seats and each represents 35,000 inhabitants. With such a system, the cantons with the most inhabitants have an advantage in terms of representation.

In this year’s elections, the number of seats ranges from one for canton Uri to 34 for Zurich, which is the most densely populated canton.

Switzerland’s proportional electoral system allows political parties other than the four government parties to hold seats, although these smaller parties do not stand a real chance of winning a large number of seats outside of their canton.

Renewing the Senate

October’s poll will also serve to elect members of the Senate – representatives who also come from the cantons. While the cantons can decide on a new member of the Senate at any time of the year, most are selected during the parliamentary election.

The distribution of seats in the Senate is not proportional, since each canton has two seats, while each half canton has one. In this case, Uri and Zurich have the same weight.

The Senate is charged with defending the interests of the cantons in the federal state. But on the whole, the positions taken are not radically different from those of the other chamber.

Traditionally, the Senate is considered more conservative, but this is not always the case.

swissinfo, Olivier Pauchard (translation: Samantha Tonkin)

Key facts

The average age of parliamentarians in the House of Representatives is 51 years.
The average age of parliamentarians in the Senate is 54.
There are 48 women in the House of Representatives, or 24 per cent of the total.
There are nine women in the Senate, representing 19.5 per cent.
Most parliamentarians in the House are farmers (23), lawyers (20) and teachers (20).

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