Politics For Members

Who is Viola Amherd, Switzerland's new president?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Who is Viola Amherd, Switzerland's new president?
Viola Amherd is Switzerland's president for 2024. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

If it is January 1st (of any year), this means Switzerland has a new president. Whose turn is it in 2024?


Viola Amherd, 61, is the country's new president, and will remain in this position until December 31st.

Amherd, who has served as Switzerland's first female Defence Minister, hails from canton Valais, which means she is the second consecutive French-speaking president, after Alain Berset, who served in 2023.

In fact, Amherd is the fourth non-German speaking president in a row, after French-speaking Guy Parmelan (2021) and Ignazio Cassis (2022), who comes from Italian-speaking Ticino. 

'Powerless' president

Unlike most countries, there is nothing surprising or dramatic about the choice of presidents in Switzerland: each of the seven members of the Federal Council gets a shot at a rotating one-year presidency. And if they stay on the Council for more than seven years, they can become president more than once.

Once elected, the president is not the head of state, however. Probably because seven heads are believed to be better than one, the entire Federal Council acts as the collective head of state. So it would not be wrong to say that Switzerland is a country with seven heads.

The seven members of the Federal Council, with president Viola Amherd in the middle. The eighth person (on he left) is the Chancellor. Photo: Swiss government media

This notion may be difficult to grasp, but the entire system is based on the premise that all seven members are equal in status and nobody wields more power or has more clout than others.(In fact, under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, the people, rather than politicians, have the decision-making power — which they exercise through frequent referendums).

READ ALSO: Who is in charge of running Switzerland?

Also unlike other countries, the Swiss president has virtually no power. Other than representing Switzerland abroad, “he or she chairs the Federal Council meetings and mediates in the case of disputes,”  according to the official government site.

In urgent situations, the president can order precautionary measures. In the unlikely event that the Federal Council is unable to hold either an ordinary or an extraordinary meeting, the president may take a unilateral decision” — the latter being the only bit of “power” the president can wield. 


How are Swiss presidents elected?

Unlike elsewhere, where presidential election is a big deal, with a lot of pomp and circumstance and sometimes quite a bit of controversy thrown in as well, in Switzerland it is a calm and laid-back affair.

That's because Switzerland manages its politics like it does everything else: in an organised and 'civilised' manner.

As mentioned above, Switzerland is ‘run’ by the Federal Council consisting of seven members.

When their turn comes up, they are 'elected' by the United Federal Assembly — that is, both chambers of the parliament. This is mostly ceremonial, since everyone knows ahead of time who is in line for presidency in a given year.

Basically, it goes like this: ‘if it’s 2024, it must be Amherd.’


Why does a president only serve one year?

It is because a year is considered long enough.

The 12-month rotation, a system that has been in place since the first Swiss president, Jonas Furrer, took office in 1848 (and left it in 1849) serves to ensure that nobody gets too comfortable or too power-hungry in this position.

So far, this system has served Switzerland well.



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