“Do you know Switzerland does not have an elected president or a prime minister” my journalist friend Reena asked me, lifting her head up from the laptop screen.
“No, I did not know that”. I had to confess. “So who governs them, Sportsmen?” I asked pouring my coffee.
Without taking the bait, Reena carried on “No they have what is called a collegial executive. That means executive power does not vest with one person but a collection of people. In Switzerland’s case, since 1848, the governance responsibility is on a set of 7 people who constitute the federal council ( FC). Each of these 7 person heads a ministry so in a sense this FC is a cabinet without any formal elected head and all policy decisions are taken jointly and by consensus.“.
“So who goes to receive the visiting head of another state?” I asked, scared that if our prime minister decided to visit them and no body landed up at the airport to receive him. “Sir we are sorry, we could not arrive at a consensus as to who should be your selfie partner”.
Reena was too occupied contemplating a haggling assembly of old men to pay attention to my grave diplomatic concerns.
“The marvel of the system” she chirped “ is that all 4 major parties of Switzerland are represented in the FC according to preset formula of 2-2-2-1. This means allocation of 2 seats per party who gets substantial numbers elected to parliament and 1 seat to party which has slightly lesser numbers. Do you see the beauty of this system that there is no opposition party as all parties are forever in power….just that their numbers vary from time to time or what varies is the region or language they represent.The overall idea is to create a balanced council with maximum representation of the Switzerland’s diversity”.
That sounded interesting. I was beginning to like this variation on electoral democracy as it seemed to be broad-basing power and public decision making which I always felt was a better way of doing policy. However I still had pressing concerns.
“So what about scandals. How are tainted politicians treated”. I wondered.
“Oh Swiss are very reluctant to remove council members once they are elected for their term of 4 years. In fact it has only been done twice in their history. Anyways, these members are elected from the parliament and they elect a president on an annual basis to chair their meetings and represent them in official functions. However the president does not have any special powers and the post is rotated annually amongst the FC members, based on seniority” She went on with the governance procedural.
“What if, one of the members of FC does not agree with a decision taken. What happens then.” I asked.
“Oh there is supposed to be consensual decision making and differences are to be resolved through negotiation and settlements. Also once a decision is made collectively, all FC member are responsible for it in public and parliament even if their personal views do not match with it.
I was really liking this collegiate system where colleagues had to be taken along and power play was really a team sport and not an individual performance. However what brought a smile to my lips was Reena’s closing statement.
“And yes, all 7 council members go to receive any visiting head of state”