1. The Swiss government executive (the Federal Council) is the body that implements the laws decided by parliament. Its seven members are elected by parliament for a term of four years (the last election was in 2015) and each heads up a different government department. Since Burkhalter resigned mid-term, an election must be held to fill the missing seat.
2. According to the Swiss constitution, any Swiss citizen who is eligible to vote can in theory stand for election to the Federal Council. They don’t have to be an MP already. As a result, the government has received around 11 ‘wildcard’ candidatures from members of the public wanting to replace Burkhalter, reports RTS. However in practice, the various political parties nominate candidates they want to put forward, who are usually already serving in the federal or cantonal parliaments.
3. This time, only the Liberal-Radical party – Burkhalter’s party – chose to put forward candidates. Two – Isabelle Moret and Ignazio Cassis – are already federal MPs, while the third, Pierre Maudet, is a minister in Geneva’s cantonal government.
The current Federal Council and federal chancellor. Photo: Phillip Zinniker/AFP
4. Though it’s likely one of the three nominated candidates will be elected to the post, that doesn’t always happen. In 2007 Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was elected to the Federal Council even though she wasn’t an official candidate.
5. Parliament isn’t completely free to choose whoever it wants, however. According to Swiss law, the Federal Council must respect the regional and linguistic diversity of Switzerland, although there are no specific rules about how that's done. The loss of Burkhalter, from French-speaking Neuchâtel, means the Federal Council will be dominated by Swiss German members, so it’s likely parliament will elect someone from French-speaking Switzerland, or indeed the Italian part, which hasn’t been represented in the government executive since 1999.
6. Cassis is the favourite, mainly because he’s from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino which isn't currently represented. Trilingual lawyer Moret, from Vaud, would address the current gender imbalance in the Federal Council – there are currently only two women, president Doris Leuthard and Simonetta Sommaruga. Geneva’s security minister Maudet is the outsider. The 39-year-old is a high flyer but has no experience in the federal parliament and is relatively unknown in German-speaking Switzerland, according to RTS.
7. The election comprises three rounds of voting, with votes cast in a secret ballot. In the second round, any candidate who gets fewer than ten votes is knocked out. The winner is elected when he or she gets more than half the votes cast. The elected person can refuse to take up the post, in which case another election will be held.
The current Federal Council is sworn in. Photo: Peter Klaunzer/AFP
8. Parliament doesn’t elect the new member to become head of a specific department. The Federal Council itself decides which member heads up which department, with longest-serving members having first pick. The new minister’s role will be decided in the weeks following his or her election.
9. Though the new government minister will be elected on September 20th, he or she won’t officially take up the post until January 1st. Federal councillors are not allowed to hold another job or political post but must focus solely on their government role, so the elected person will resign from any professional position before he or she takes up the post.
10. The new federal councillor will earn a salary of 445,163 francs a year, plus a 30,000 franc expenses fund and the use of two cars – a company car and an official state car. They also get a first class annual rail pass.