• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Appenzell Innerhoden enjoys 'pure democracy'

Nina Larson/AFP · 24 May 2013, 11:25

Published: 24 May 2013 11:25 GMT+02:00

Every year, voters from across the northeastern demi-canton, or region, of Appenzell Innerhoden flood into the Landsgemeindeplatz to elect their local leaders and judges — not by casting ballots but by raising their hands.
   
"I love it!" Millius shouts above the cheers of onlookers as a marching 
band and procession of politicians in traditional ceremonial garb make their way towards the roped-in area in the central square — known as "the ring" — where the voting will take place.
   
"I think it's the best way to live democracy, because it's really direct," 
he says, straightening his sword, which he, like most of the other men, carries instead of a voting card.
   
The tradition of the Landsgemeinde, or open-air assembly, dates back to the 
14th century, and in Appenzell is held every year on the last Sunday in April.
   
Historians say that back then, only men willing to go to battle to defend 
their community were allowed to vote — a right they for centuries have demonstrated by carrying a side-arm into the voting ring.
   
"This is the only place in the world, I think, where a weapon serves as 
voter ID," says Rudolf Keller, the second secretary in the Appenzell cantonal government, showing off his own sword, which has his name engraved in the glistening steel.
   
Only Appenzell 
Innerhoden and another canton, Glarus, vote this way.

The women flocking through Appenzell's narrow and windblown streets meanwhile carry their yellow voting cards with as much pride as the men carry their swords.

Story continues below…

Appenzell Innerhoden, considered Switzerland's most conservative canton, only allowed women to vote in 1991, a full 20 years after women were permitted to vote in Swiss federal elections.
   
And women might still be standing on the outside if Bern had not found the 
situation so embarrassing that it made the almost unheard of move of ordering Appenzell men to let their mothers, wives and daughters into the ring.
   
Vreni Inauen, a tourist guide who herself could not vote when she first 
became an Appenzell citizen 26 years ago, says times have changed a lot since then.
   
"Some old men may still not be really happy that women were allowed in, but 
the younger generations are happy to have the women there," she says, noting that even before 1991, women made their views known.
   
"Many women went to watch the Landsgemeinde and made sure their husbands 
voted according to their opinions," she laughs.
   
Now, as then, curious onlookers crowd every window in the colourful 
wood-painted buildings that surround the Landsgemeindeplatz, and restaurant terraces are overflowing with tourists braving the icy winds whipping the square to see democracy in action.

'Direct democracy in its loveliest form' 

Voting in Appenzell requires a large dose of patience.

The more than 3,900 people crowded into the ring remain standing — only the elderly and handicapped are provided with seats — for more than three hours.

Early in the process, an ocean of hands wave cantonal vice president Daniel Faessler in to replace outgoing chief Carlo Schmid, who leaves the government after 29 years.
   
But filling Faessler's vacated seat proves more difficult: even after three 
attempts, it is impossible to see which of the two candidates has the most hands.
   
"This is a very special occasion," whispers a woman standing outside the 
circle: "They will count the votes!" — something that hasn't happened for the past decade.
   
For the count to happen, the crowd slowly splits into two currents and 
trickles out of the ring through two separate exits, each representing a candidate. Four counters at each exit click their buttons for each person who walks by.
   
A rope marking the rear of the crowd gradually advances as the circle 
empties to ensure people re-entering the ring cannot exit, or vote, twice.
   
In the end, Roland Inauen, who directs the cantonal court and the local 
museum, wins with just 33 more votes than his opponent Josef Schmid.
   
The Landsgemeinde is not yet over though. Voters go on to re-elect the 
other government members and judges, give their blessing to a seven-million -franc ($7.5-million) rail project and reject a proposal to limit government member terms to 12 years.
   
"This is direct democracy in its loveliest form," says Claude Chappuis, who 
has come from his home in the French-speaking Swiss town of Nyon near Geneva, to see "true democracy" in action.
   
"It takes a lot of courage to raise your hand and say your opinion in front 
of everybody," he says.
   
But some others are worried by the lack of secrecy.

   
"It's a little dangerous to rhapsodize too much about the democratic nature 
of the Landsgemeinde," says Clive Church, a British historian and Switzerland expert, pointing out that "if you take an unpopular stand, you are exposed and can possibly be pressured".
   
Voter Millius acknowledges that "there can be problems with every system".


But, he says, "this is the purest system, and it's working for us".

Nina Larson/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Foreigners in Switzerland surpass 2 million mark
International flags outside the UN in Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/AFP

For the first time, there are now more than two million foreigners living in Switzerland.

Geneva runs out of permits for non-EU workers
File photo: The Local

Canton complains to the federal government after it reduced the number of permits available to third state workers.

Scorchio! Late August heat breaks record in Geneva
Lake Geneva on Thursday. Photo: The Local

The mercury in Geneva hit 33.3 degrees, a record for the final week in August.

US and Russia meet in Geneva for Syria talks
John Kerry with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Thursday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Expert predicts major quake for Switzerland by 2040
A fireman stands in the Italian village of Amatrice, which was badly hit by this week's earthquake. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The canton of Valais is particularly at risk.

Aggressive deer put down after attacking four in Geneva
File photo: Michal Kosacky

The buck attacked four people in the same area over the course of 48 hours.

Navigation error ends badly for Basel driver

A man accidentally drove his car down a flight of steps after his passenger directed him the wrong way.

Blatter 'confident' as he faces Swiss sports court
Sepp Blatter. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Former Fifa boss Sepp Blatter is back in court on Thursday as he seeks to overturn a six-year ban from football.

Federer teams up with Nadal for new tennis tournament
Federer and Nadal at the Laver Cup launch with Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America/AFP

The duo will play doubles together in a new competition pitting Europe against the rest of the world in a tennis team event.

Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
File photo: C Carlstead

The secular canton of Geneva has issued guidelines for teachers on how to deal with religious issues in the classroom.

Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: Starship
Technology
Swiss Post trials robot parcel deliveries in Bern
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: AFP
Politics
Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Photo: Neil Heritage/Endeavour Fund
Features
Amputee's Matterhorn trek 'makes it more possible' for others
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo: EPFL
International
Switzerland tops global innovation table – again
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Photo: Vasily Cotovanu
National
Asylum centre plans shelved after Swiss village protests
Photo: The Local
Politics
Neuchâtel looks to boost rights for foreigners
Photo: AFP
Sport
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: AFP
National
Experts debate rail security following Swiss train attack
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
File photo: AFP
Sport
Two basejumpers die in Lauterbrunnen accidents
Photo: AFP
International
Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Photo: AXA Winterthur
National
Report: Geneva is Swiss capital of car theft
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP
National
Top tips for watching the meteor shower in Switzerland
File photo: Andrew Turner
Technology
Swiss start-up to offer drone service to farmers
Photo: Beat Strasser
National
British quadruple amputee summits Matterhorn
Photo: Judit Klein
National
Switzerland sees rise in child victims of forced marriage
Photo: Michael Schlick/OS Muhr
National
Swiss hiker in Austria rescued after sending SOS to America
Photo: Chris Murphy
Features
14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland
Photo: AFP
Lifestyle
Swiss resort unveils huge ‘natural’ fresco on mountain
Photo: C Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
National
Five great Swiss traditions all expats should try
Photo: AFP
National
Confirmed cases of Zika virus soar in Switzerland
Photo: eGuide Travel
National
Prison for woman who faked Swiss airport bomb threat
Photo: AFP
Technology
Swiss solar plane completes epic round-the-world trip
4,610
jobs available