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ELECTION

Switzerland has a new president… but you probably didn’t notice

A "magic formula" means Switzerland has a new president.

Switzerland has a new president... but you probably didn't notice
Simonetta Sommaruga. AFP
Cabinet member Simonetta Sommaruga of the Socialist Party took over the Swiss presidency on Wednesday, a largely ceremonial role that rotates between leading political parties.
 
The 59-year-old Sommaruga is the minister for environment, transport, energy and communication in Switzerland's seven member Federal Council, which is the executive branch in the wealthy Alpine nation. 

She has sat on the council since 2010, previously holding the justice ministry post. 

Sommaruga took over the presidency from Finance Minister Ueli Maurer of the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).

Under Switzerland's so-called “magic formula” in place since 1959, cabinet positions are shared between the four largest parties: the SVP, the Socialists, the right-leaning Free Democratic Party (PLR) and centrist  Christian Democrats.

The Green Party made historic gains at federal elections in October, prompting calls that it now deserved a cabinet seat, but it has not yet managed to secure a place in the executive branch.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Switzerland's Federal Council

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POLITICS

How Switzerland can force you to run for public office

Having Swiss citizenship brings with it all sorts of benefits - but also the possibility that you could be forced to run for public office. Here's why.

How Switzerland can force you to run for public office

In most cases, when an election for a public office is held, several candidates compete and campaign for the position.

But if you are a Swiss citizen your name can be added to the ballot against your will – even if you have no knowledge of or interest in politics.

One recent example of such “coercion” comes from the town of Buchrain (population 6,000) in canton Lucerne.

As reported by Blick, the municipality must fill a position of social director, which is an elected rather than appointed role, but no candidates have come forward to fill the vacancy on the town council.

The town has solved this conundrum by adding names of all the residents eligible to serve — Swiss nationals over the age of 18, who have lived in the community for at least five days — to its election roster.

Whoever gets the most votes in the September 25th election will be constrained to serve on the municipal council, no matter how unwillingly or reluctantly.

While  this move is undoubtedly extreme, it is not unique in Switzerland.

Another such example comes from Spiringen, Uri (population 903), where Tobias Imhof was elected to the municipal council against his will in 2017.

If elected, these people must serve, but they do have the right to appeal the voters’ decision.

Objections against one’s own election must have valid grounds, though. Other than suddenly dying (a cast-iron alibi if ever we heard one), they include being over 65 years of age or providing proof that serving in a public office would be detrimental to the person’s health or the local economy.

READ MORE: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works 

Can you be elected to a public office against your will?

This is not a widespread or common practice, as in most cases there are enough candidates who are eager, or at least willing, to serve, but it does happen, especially in smaller places.

However it only happens at a local, rather than national, level, so you don’t need to worry that one day you will wake up and discover that you are the president of Switzerland.

Also, for your name to be added to the list of candidates, you must be eligible to stand for election in the first place.

This means you must be a Swiss citizen, whether from birth or naturalised. And being a dual national — that is, of Switzerland and another country — doesn’t exempt you from this civic obligation either. That is because in the eyes of the law, you are considered to be Swiss, regardless of what other nationalities you hold.

Each town could have its own specific eligibility criteria as well, such as the length of residency in the community, for instance.

Additionally, fluency in the language of the region (that is, German, French or Italian) is certainly a requirement too, as no municipality wants councillors who don’t speak and understand the local language.

 READ MORE: Switzerland rejects voting rights for foreigners

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