Recent Email from a Swiss Citizen

Hi Mr. Ravitz,

thank you for your interest in direct democracy.

*  In Switzerland we do vote about tax increases/decreases, tax system,
   prisons, nuclear powerplants, rail-systems, foreign-politics,
   international treaties, the finances of our villages, counties,
   country, salary of our members of parliament, protection of our 
   landscape. I hope, one day everyone on this planet does have 
   similar rights and possibilities.

*  The Initiative is very popular in switzerland and quite often, when
   we have to vote about a more popular theme, the turnouts are very high,
   by our standards (40%-50%) [up to 72% recently].
   But only a minority of the Initiatives have ever been successful.
   Though, the majority of them had massive influence in regular politics.
   The referendums have often been used to block some unwanted governmental
   activities and some international treaties, of which people had to fear
   major disadvantages (more traffic from the EU etc...)

A. First some simplified information about our Federation.
   The Swiss Federation is a union of 26 smaller units we call "Kantone" and
   "Halb-Kantone", you could use the term county and half-county, i think.
   Each of these "Kantone" has its own Government and Constitution.
   And often even these "Kantone" are subdivided into "Bezirke" (Regions).
   The Federation consists of two parliamentary chambers.
   One of these Chambers, the "Nationalrat" represents the population of a
   "Kanton", thus "Kantone" with more population send more folks to this 
   The other one, the "Staenderat" represents the "Kanton" itself. Thus,
   each "Kanton" is sending two Members and each "Halb-Kanton" one.
   Our Parliament is not professional, thus "Miliz-System". There are
   two official sessions of Parliament each Year.
*  Switzerland doesn't have a real and powerful president, like the USA.
   We've got 7 ministers, elected by parliament, who rule this country.
   Every year another one of these is called 'First among equals',
   ... thus he is called president.
   There is one federal court seated in lausanne.
   You should know, every "Kanton" has its own laws, its own constitution,
   its own court. Only under certain conditions, you could appeal to the
   federal court (still very easy yet).

*  Thus elections of any parliament is very boring, since you see the same
   heap of boring faces every time.
   But our Federation and all of the "Kantone" have the possibility of public
   interaction into the political process:

   - Initiative: The Possibility to propose a change in constitution, or even
                 to propose a new constitution at all. 100,000 signatures are
                 requred to place an initiative on the ballot.
                 It is impossible yet, to directly change the laws, but since
                 the constitution overrides law, the affected laws just get
                 invalid, but not deleted.
   - Obligatorisches Referendum:
                 The federal constitution demands, if some specified laws
                 are proposed by the parliament to change, there has to
                 be a vote about it.
   - Fakultatives Referendum:
                 If any other law changes, which doesn't underly any of the
                 restrictions above, there is only one chance to get a vote
                 about it: From the day on, a law has been accepted by
                 parliament, any movement of people in switzerland has
                 three months time to collect 50'000 approved signs of 
                 swiss citizens, to enforce a vote about it, otherwise
                 it gets valid three months after proposal.
   - Petition:   A non-binding proposal/question to the government.

B. Newspapers: I know, the "NZZ-Neue Zuercher Zeitung" is available in the 
   USA. It's disadvantage is, it's written in german.
   It has all the major political discussions and the protocols of 
   parliamentary sessions printed.
   It is influenced by the "Parti Radical Democratique/Freisinnig
   Partei", which is a liberal party. It is the one party, which founded our
   Federative System, as it now is.

C. Some interesting Facts about Switzerland:
   The Organisation of Switzerland into several "Kantone" had originally been
   made by Napoleon the Ist. With some smaller exceptions The political map
   is still the same as when Napoleon was here.

*  Our Constitution as it actually is, had massively been influenced by the
   Constitution of the USA.
   The major difference is: We don't have a powerful president,
                            we have seven ministers, which rule together.
   Another major difference in our political life is:
*  We aren't used to have a single party ruling !
   We have four parties with this division of power:
   SVP (1 Minister), FDP (2), CVP (2), SP (2).

   SVP: Schweizerische Volks-Partei / Swiss people's party
        Traditional Party, on the right wing.
   FDP: Freisinnig Demokratische Partei / Free Democratic Party
        Liberal Party, centered.
   CVP: Christliche Volks-Partei / Christian people's party
        Liberal to Social Party, centered.
   SP:  Sozialdemokratische Partei / Socialdemocratic Party
        Worker's Party, left.

*  This Formula is called the "Zauberformel" (magic formula).
   Therefore our government is not only representing about 51% of all voting
   people, but even around 90% of our people.

   The acceptance of our "Bundesrat" (council of the federation/ council of 
   the ministers) is quite high, with one exception.
   The one exception is everything concerning the European Union and the UN.

D. If you're interested in our constitution, you should give a phone to our
   embassy and ask for a copy. It's quite a small document.
   There are official translations into french, italy, german; these are 
   relevant at court, there is often noted, which language does apply to
   which paragraph. There surely are translations into english, i think.

I wish you a nice day.


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