• Switzerland edition
 
Appenzell Innerhoden enjoys 'pure democracy'
Appenzell Innerhoden's 'direct democracy' is practised outdoors. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

Appenzell Innerhoden enjoys 'pure democracy'

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

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
National tax planned to cut water micropollutants
The Terre Sainte sewage treatment plant in the canton of Vaud. Photo: Canton of Vaud

National tax planned to cut water micropollutants

Starting in 2016, an annual tax of up to nine francs ($9.43) per resident will help finance equipment in around 100 sewage treatment plants across Switzerland to prevent microscopic pollutants from flowing into lakes and rivers. READ  

UBS pays €1.1-billion bail in French 'tax fraud' case
Photo: UBS

UBS pays €1.1-billion bail in French 'tax fraud' case

Swiss banking giant UBS has made a €1.1-billion ($1.4-billion) bail payment for allegedly helping rich French clients to hide money in Switzerland, a lawyer for the bank said on Tuesday. READ  

Senior dupes European court in suicide snafu
Photo: AFP

Senior dupes European court in suicide snafu

The European rights court on Tuesday withdrew its criticism of Switzerland's assisted suicide laws after it emerged an octogenarian who filed the initial complaint had duped both the court and her lawyer in the case. READ  

Wawrinka knocked out early at Japan Open
The top seeded Swiss struggled to make his mark. Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP

Wawrinka knocked out early at Japan Open

Tatsuma Ito followed the winning example of Japanese compatriot Kei Nishikori as the number 103-ranked local dumped top seed Stan Wawrinka out 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the Japan Open tennis tournament on Tuesday. READ  

Swiss group's bid for cat quotas creates buzz
Photo: Joel Dietle

Swiss group's bid for cat quotas creates buzz

A proposal by a Swiss animal protection group to set a limit of one cat per household in Switzerland is attracting international attention. READ  

Basel tackle Liverpool in Champions League duel
FC Basel coach Paulo Sousa: "We'll be stronger." Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Basel tackle Liverpool in Champions League duel

Liverpool are confident that they can put a frustrating run of domestic form behind them when they face FC Basel in Switzerland in Champions League Group B football action on Wednesday. READ  

Bern police seek help after boy dies in woods
Köniz church, near where the body was found. Photo: Ikiwaner/Wikimedia Commons

Bern police seek help after boy dies in woods

Police in the canton of Bern on Monday launched a bid for help from the public after the body of a 15-year-old boy was found in the woods near Köniz. READ  

Immigration continues to boost Swiss population
Foreign immigration continues to zoom: crowd watches Swiss air force jet in Bernese Oberland. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/File

Immigration continues to boost Swiss population

Immigration is largely responsible for an increase in Switzerland’s population to 8.14 million at the end of 2013, up just over 100,000 from the previous year, according to latest government figures. READ  

Mediterranean migrant death toll hits new high

More than 3,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, more than double the previous peak in 2011, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said on Monday. READ  

UBS offers share swap for new holding company
Photo: Martin Abegglen

UBS offers share swap for new holding company

Switzerland’s largest bank UBS is setting up a holding company to allow its operations to be broken up more easily in the event of a financial crisis. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Scientific study rings alarm over wellbeing of Swiss cows with bells
Business & Money
Switzerland's residents top world financial wealth list: Allianz report
National
Saint Maurice abbey in Valais celebrates 1,500 years of history
National
Streaming movie video service Netflix arrives in Switzerland
National
Professional Chilean base jumper dives to death in Swiss Alps
Education
ETH Zurich remains top university in Europe: QS world rankings
National
Switzerland's housing vacancy rate jumps: new federal figures
National
Swiss football club fires team masseuse over explicit sex video
National
Geneva police arrest easyJet passenger over hand luggage row
Business & Money
Latest forecasts for Swiss economic growth turn less bullish
Sport
Formula One legend Schumacher to continue treatment at Swiss home
National
Former federal planning official calls for nine Swiss cantons
Features
The Local gets the lowdown on mushroom picking in Switzerland
National
Virgin boss Richard Branson's son rescued from peak of Matterhorn
National
Swiss President Didier Burkhalter's commute turns Twitter sensation
Features
High-tech cameras give dizzy view of Eiger's north face (VIDEO)
Politics
Baden municipal council strips 'nude selfies mayor' of duties
Business & Money
Switzerland stays atop competitiveness table for sixth year
National
Federal parliament secretary agrees to step down over nude selfies
Sponsored Article
Car insurance made easy online with St Bernard
National
Swiss residents pick Swedes as ideal European soul mates: survey
National
Zurich officials call project to move prostitutes to 'sex boxes' a success
National
Swiss gays recognized as parents of child born to surrogate mother
Health
Increase in mountain bike accidents keeps Swiss hospitals busy
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

2,147
jobs available