New member of Swiss government executive elected

Didier Burkhalter was elected Wednesday to the Swiss Federal Council, the executive branch of government, following four rounds of voting in a joint session of both legislative houses. The move is expected to be carried out smoothly, as the French- speaking councillor-elect will replace a fellow Latin party member, assuring the Swiss “magic formula” for consensus government.

“The agreement is saved, the peace of the languages is preserved,” declared the Geneva-based Le Temps daily on its Website. There had been a chance a German speaker might grab the seat.

The Swiss system has a collegium executive body, where all seven members are seen as equals and the branch works on the basis of consensus.

The presidency is largely symbolic and rotates on an annual basis, in an effort to ensure all councillors get to hold the title.

The unofficial Swiss formula for government – which shares the council seats among the major parties and language regions of the Alpine land – has taken some hits in recent years, mainly owing to a shift away from the historic centrist parties to the right, which forced a change to the classic makeup of the government.

However, polls in the run-up to the vote showed citizens still want consensus politics rather than coalition governments, and seek cabinet members who will work across party lines.

The cabinet would maintain its proportions of five councillors from Teutonic regions, which make up over 60 per cent of the population, and two from Francophone areas, where 20 per cent of the people live. The Italian speaking region, which has about 6 per cent of the population, has not been represented on the council in a decade.

Burkhalter is a member of the right-of-centre Liberal Party and is from the French-speaking Canton Neuchatel. In Switzerland, where local pride can equal or surpass nationalist sentiment, the canton and its villages have announced celebrations.

When he replaces fellow party member Pascal Couchepin in the body, Burkhalter is to become the 112th federal councillor since modern Switzerland and its constitution were founded in 1848.

Couchepin, who heads the federal department of home affairs, decided to retire earlier this year, after 11 years on the council, and is to officially step down in November. He resides in the largely French-speaking Canton Valais in the south.

Burkhalter, aged 49, defeated his main challenger in the election, Urs Schwaller of the centre-right Christian Democrats. That party has fallen from its heyday, with much of its voter base shifting to other groupings, including the conservative right-wing Swiss People’s Party.

Schwaller is from Fribourg, a mixed canton. While he speaks both French and German fluently, he is not a Latin, and his election might have rocked the boat.

His canton’s French language paper, La Liberte, was restrained on its Website, announcing the result and saying simply that the Swiss formula was preserved.

With the Liberals maintaining their seat, consensus politics is expected to reign, at least until nationwide parliamentary elections in about a year’s time, when the entire Federal Council will be reelected as well.

Councillors are not members of parliament in Switzerland but are the main full-time politicians running the country. Parliamentarians get paid a pittance and most keep their day jobs – many are lawyers, academics and in business – stopping only to convene in Bern a few times a year for marathon sessions.


One Response

  1. Didier Burkhalter. Is he elected?? Let’s see now what will he do?? Let’s hope that he be kind andset the example by being agood politician, Not the corrupted one.

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