Explain in details the major features of the Constitution of Switzerland.

(1) Introduction

The current Constitution of Switzerland is the third Swiss Constitution. It has made contributions in the development of democratic constitutions of other states. Its direct democracy devices lead other democratic constitutions of the world. And its plural executive consists of advantages of parliamentary and presidential executives, avoids the demerits of government, and, therefore, makes an extraordinary contribution to the mechanism of government.

(2) Features Of Swiss Constitution

Followings are the main or major features of the Swiss Constitution:

  • (i) Preamble
  • (ii) Written Constitution
  • (iii) Enacted Constitution
  • (iv) Revised Constitution
  • (v) Rigid Constitution
  • (vi) Democratic, republican Constitution
  • (vii) Confederation & federalism
  • (viii) Direct democracy
  • (ix) Mixture of parliamentary & presidential forms of government
  • (x) Plural executive
  • (xi) Bicameral legislature
  • (xii) Judiciary
  • (xiii) Constitutional conventions
  • (xiv) Bill of Rights
  • (xv) Purpose of state
  • (xvi) Dual citizenship

(i) Preamble

Its preamble opens it. Its preamble describes three principles:

  • (a) Freedom
  • (b) Strength of people
  • (c) Sovereignty

(a) Freedom

Only those remain free who use their freedom.

(b) Strength Of People

The strength of a people is measured by the welfare of the weakest of its members.

(c) Sovereignty

There is firm faith in the sovereignty of the people and the Cantons (Swiss states).

(ii) Written Constitution

It is a written Constitution; there are six titles in it, each title has several chapters, and it consists of one hundred and ninety six articles.

(iii) Enacted Constitution

It is an enacted Constitution; it was drafted by a committee of the Swiss Parliament in 1848 and was approved by the Parliament, the Cantons and the people of Switzerland.

(iv) Revised Constitution

It has been revised twice; it was totally revised in 1874. It was again totally revised in 1999, and this revised constitution came into operation in 2000 and is still in force.

(v) Rigid Constitution

It is a rigid Constitution. The process of amendment is specific and complicated. There are two methods of amending it:

  • (a) Referendum
  • (b) Constitutional initiative

(a) Referendum

If both the houses of the federal Parliament agree for a complete or partial revision of the Constitution by passing a resolution, they can draft such a proposal and submit it to the vote of the people and Cantons. If a majority of the citizens, who vote at Referendum, and a majority of the Cantons approve it, the amendment is made in the Constitution.

(b) Constitutional Initiative

One lakh Swiss voters can initiate any proposal for constitutional amendment, and such amendment is incorporated in the Constitution when the major of Swiss voters and majority of Cantons approve it in a referendum. This method is called constitutional initiative.

(vi) Democratic Republican Constitution

It makes Switzerland a Republic:

  • (a) Elected plural executive
  • (b) Elected political institutions
  • (c) People’s participation
  • (d) Republicanism in Cantons

(a) Elected Plural Executive

Switzerland is headed by a seven member plural executive whose members are elected by the two houses of Swiss Federal Parliament.

(b) Elected Political Institutions

All political institutions in Switzerland are elected institutions.

(c) People’s Participation

The people elect their representatives and they directly participate in the law-making through the devices of referendum and initiative.

(d) Republicanism In Cantons

There is republicanism in the Cantons. The Cantons have right to make their constitutions.

(vii) Confederation & Federalism

The Constitution declares Switzerland a Swiss Confederation, which is based on several federal features. Some federal characteristics of the Swiss Constitution establish a federation in Switzerland:

  • (a) Supremacy of Swiss Constitution
  • (b) Status of Cantons
  • (c) Distribution of powers

(d) Dual citizenship, dual administration & dual system of courts

(a) Status Of Cantons

There is non-sovereign status of Cantons.

(b) Supremacy Of Swiss Constitution

There is supremacy of Swiss Constitution.

(c) Distribution Of Powers

The federation has been given powers in respect of subjects of national importance and the Cantons have retained powers in respect of local and regional subjects.

(d) Dual Citizenship, Dual Administration & Dual System Of Courts

There is dual citizenship, dual administration and a dual system of courts in Switzerland.

(viii) Direct Democracy

The Constitution provides for direct democracy in Switzerland:

  • (a) Direct & representative democracy
  • (b) Devices of direct democracy

(a) Direct & Representative Democracy

There is direct democracy within a system of representative democracy; there is a directly elected Federal Parliament.

(b) Devices Of Direct Democracy

The Swiss people directly participate in legislation through the devices of direct democracy, these devices are referendum, initiative and landsgemeinde.

(ix) Mixture Of Parliamentary & Presidential Forms Of Government

The Swiss Constitution has introduced a unique system of government, which consists of the features of both the parliamentary form of government and presidential form of government.

(x) Plural Executive

The Swiss Constitution has presented a unique concept of executive; there is a plural executive, which consists of seven elected members, who form the Federal Government. All executive powers of the federation are exercised by this seven-member Federal Government. All the seven members collectively exercise power.

(xi) Bicameral Legislature

The Swiss Constitution has established a bicameral legislature; the Swiss legislature is Federal Assembly, which – consists of two chambers:

  • (a) National Council
  • (b) Council of states

(a) National Council

National Council is the lower, popular, national house, which represents the Swiss people. It is also called House of Representatives.

(b) Council Of States

Council of States is the upper house, which represents the Cantons and their sovereign equality. It is also called Senate.

(xii) Judiciary

The Swiss Constitution has decided that the judiciary is to apply laws, which the Parliament has passed. Therefore, the judiciary cannot exercise power of judicial review for laws of Federal Parliament. However, it can exercise the power of judicial review for cantonal laws.

(xiii) Constitutional Conventions

There are several constitutional conventions, and these constitutional conventions have been regulating all Swiss political institutions since the origin of Swiss constitutional system in 1848.

(xiv) Bill Of Rights

In 2000, Bill of Rights was incorporated into the Swiss Constitution. Consequently, the Swiss people have been granted several rights.

(xv) Purpose Of State

The Swiss Constitution describes purpose of the Swiss state:

  • (a) Liberty & rights
  • (b) Independence & security
  • (c) Common welfare, sustainable development, inner cohesion & cultural diversity
  • (d) Equal opportunities
  • (e) Natural resources
  • (f) Just & peaceful international order

(a) Liberty & Rights

The state is to protect liberty and rights of the people.

(b) Independence & Security

The state is to safeguard the independence and security of the country.

(c) Common Welfare, Sustainable Development, Inner Cohesion & Cultural Diversity

The state is to promote common welfare, sustainable development, inner cohesion and cultural diversity of the country.

(d) Equal Opportunities

The state is to secure equal opportunities to all citizens.

(e) Natural Resources

The state is to work for preservation of natural resources.

(f) Just & Peaceful International Order

The state is to promote a just and peaceful international order.

(xvi) Dual Citizenship

The Constitution has introduced a system of dual citizenship; every Swiss is citizen of Switzerland and his Canton.

(3) Conclusion

It can be finally stated that the Swiss Constitution is unique in character. It has made Switzerland the home of direct democracy. It has some other unique features too. One unique feature is that it does not provide for a constitutional objection to federal legislation; once the Parliament has enacted legislation, the Federal Supreme Court cannot declare it invalid on the ground that it is unconstitutional.

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