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    Monday, 6 February 2017

    Silent Features of Swiss Federal Constitution

    1. Written constitution
    Swiss Constitution has been reduced to writing and it comprises a detailed document consisting of 122 articles. Such details have also been made the part of the Constitutional Law as are normally regulated through statutes in other countries. Constitutional conventions also constitute unwritten part of the Constitution. Hence all traditions also performed due role along with conscious and deliberate efforts in the development and growth of the Constitution.

    2 Rigidity of the Constitution
    The procedure of Constitutional amendment, unlike that of Pakistan's, is a bit lengthy one as it can be amended not only by the Federal Assembly but the federating units and the electorate is also directly involved. There are two important aspects of the process of Constitutional amendment:

    (a) Total Revision
    Total revision of the Constitution took place only once and that was in 1874. In order to undertake total revision of the Constitution, both 1111 the Chambers of the Federal Assembly are required to approve it along with the concurrence of the majority of the cantons. Final approval has to be given by the people at referendum. Such amendment got to be initiated by both the Chambers of the Federal Assembly. Nevertheless, electorate by a specific majority may also initiate such amendment. Accordingly, at least 50,000 voters make a request to the Federal Assembly for total revision of the Constitution; such a move shall be put at referendum to elicit public opinion. If approved by the people, both the chambers of the Federal Assembly shall have to be re-elected. The newly elected Assembly shall approve the revision of the Constitution in collaboration with the majority of the Cantons. After getting approval, the Constitution stands amended.

    (b) Partial Amendment. Partial amendment implies few alterations in different provisions of the Constitution. This method has close resemblance with the former method of amendment. If both the Chambers of Federal Assembly initiate any proposal for constitutional amendment, it becomes part of the Constitution with the approval of the majority of the Cantons and that of the People through referendum. Nevertheless, the voters can also initiate such Proposal.

    3. Federal System.
    According to the Swiss Constitution, the word 'Confederation' has been used in the name of the country, whereas the system is, in fact, federal one. It comprises 20 full Cantons and six half Cantons. The federal system ensures a suitable balance between regional autonomy and the requirements of an effective national government.

    Division of Powers
    The pattern of division of powers in Swiss Federation is, to a greater extent, modeled on the pattern of American Federation. The powers of the central government have been expressed in the Constitution in the form of a list. It includes all such matters which relate to the collective interest, Second list deals with concurrent affairs, on which both the central as well as Canton's governments can legislate. In case of clash between the Central Law and that of the Cantons Law, the former shall prevail. All the residuary powers are given to the Cantons. It is worth-noting that the sphere of central legislation has been expanded in the face of changing world-wide trends, leaning in favor of a strong central government. The federal government, for example, was given the power to legislate on nuclear affairs in 1957, and again in 1961, was empowered to lay pipelines for petroleum and gas supply.

    Federal List.
    Certain important matters in the federal list are defense, foreign affairs, appointment of diplomatic corps, declaration of war, making of peace, negotiation of treaties, administration, railway, currency, commerce, planning, banking, post and telegraph, weights and measures, citizenship laws, natural resources, etc.

    Concurrent List.
    Following are certain important matters included in the as well as Canton's governments are authorized to legislate Concurrent List: Construction and maintenance of high ways, control over press, insurance and industry, promotion of education. It should be recollected that both Central on such matters.

    Regional Autonomy
    All the federating units enjoy full autonomy within their respective sphere of action. The national Constitution cannot be amended without their approval. These are also authorized to frame their separate Constitutions. Certain limitations have, however, been imposed by the Constitution in the interest of the general welfare and national solidarity. First, no Canton is allowed to insert in its Constitution any such clause as clashes with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic. Second, the political system of every Canton is required to secure a republican form of government. Thirdly, the method of amendment of every Constitution should ensure public participation in this process. It is worth-pointing it out that cooperation between the federal government and the governments of Cantons has been fully ascertained in various fields.

    Trends of Centralism.
    The Non federal experience in the, past was a total failure, hence the presence of an effective and stable central government was Thought indispensable. Total revision of the Constitution, therefore, took place in 1874, in order to establish an effective national government. From that time onward, the central government grew in powers. At present, the jurisdiction of the central government has been expanded even to the matters which were considered beyond its sphere of action a century ago. New sources of 'revenue have been added and placed at its disposal. The control of the central 'government has become more effective over the Canton's governments due to continuous increase in grants in aid secured to the latter. Two different methods have been employed in enhancing the powers of the national government, viz., through formal amendments of the Constitution and secondly, by strengthening certain Conventions of the Constitution.

    The Swiss federal structure cannot, however, be branded as closer to a unitary system, despite the increasing trends of centralism. The federating units enjoy residuary powers and many federal affairs, in contrast to American practice, are administered through Canton's governments. Moreover, concurrence on the part of Cantons is required to amend the federal Constitution. Swiss citizen's nave proved to be the most vigilant and politically conscious people. They would not like to depart with their traditional political heritage that ensures direct involvement, 1 political decision-making. Hence, the presence of vigilant public opinion coupled with a strong desire to preserve regional autonomy, stands as an effective safeguard to promote national solidarity.

    4. Plural Executive.

    Plural executive is a novel feature of Swiss political system, i.e., no single person is the head of the government, it is a collegian body known as Federal Council which exercises executive authority. It consists of seven members elected by the Federal Assembly for a period of four years. No single exalted individual holds distinct position as President or Prime Minister. Presidency rotates among all the members of Federal Council turn by turn. Certain features of the Federal Council have resemblance with the characteristics of parliamentary form while in some other ways, it is closer to presidential system. To illustrate, all the members of the Council are generally elected from the members of the Federal Assembly but after their election, they have to resign from its membership. They actively participate in the deliberative process of the Assembly and perform an important role in legislation. But they are deprived of the right to vote within the legislative chambers. Federal Assembly has no power to initiate no-confidence motion against the Council. Despite the accountability of the Federal Council to the Assembly, the former enjoys security of its tenure. Hence, this system combines the features of both, parliamentary and presidential forms of government.

    5. Bicameral Legislature.
    The federal legislature is bicameral in which the upper chamber is named as State Council while the lower one as National Council. The former represents the federating units on parity basis and two seats are allocated to each Canton while one seat to every half Canton. The total number of its members is 46. National Council is the popularly, elected chamber and constituted on the basis of one seat allocated to every twenty four thousands electorate. Both chambers share equal powers.

    6. Direct Democracy.
     Switzerland is a unique country where the devices of direct democracy are put into practice in a modern age. Swiss people consistently participate directly in public affairs through such devices as initiative and recall. These political practices of popular participation help in perpetuating the interest of the people in public affairs. Swiss people have undoubtedly, demonstrated maximum level of political awareness. Public participation in state-craft has not been confined merely to the election of the rulers; they rather actively participate in policy-making. Through initiative they may initiate proposals in respect of policy-making while they may obstruct the passage of any bill or proposal to this effect by disapproving it at referendum, Elected representatives can be called back prior to the termination of their tenure, by the voters through recall.

    7. Fundamental Rights.
    in modern democracies, a list of fundamental rights is drawn in the constitutional document so as to secure better protection to, public liberties. This practice has been adopted in the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan as well. But fundamental rights are not found explicitly in the form of a list in the Swiss Constitution; rather different provisions of the Constitution deal with fundamental freedoms Ail basic rights are enforced through the superior courts. Certain important fundamental rights are the following;-

    1. Equality before Law.
    All citizens stand equal in the eyes of law and no discrimination is done in this regard. The law of the %state provides equal protection to all citizens and equal opportunities to all alike so that they may develop their capacities according to their natural disposition.

    2. Freedom of Conscience and Religion.
    All citizens are adopting any faith and no -limitations are imposed in matters of religion! Religious education cannot be imparted. to any person arbitrarily.

    3. Freedom of Expression.
    Every citizen has been ensured to express his Opinion with any fear or restraints. But any speech impairing the prevailing laws is, however, treated as an offence.

    4. Freedom of Press.
    Media enjoys maximum freedom and no restraints are imposed on communication activity provided it is carried on in accordance with the dictates of law. Press is expected to observe, rules of professional morality and keep into consideration the national interest while performing its function.

    5 Choice of Profession.  
    Every citizen has been given the right to work for earning his livelihood. He may adopt any profession of his choice. Right to  own property and all other belongings has also been secured. It is to be noted, that the level of per capita income in Switzerland is one of the highest amongst the developed countries.

    6. Right to education.
    Primary education is free and compulsory and no discrimination is done as far as admission to public schools is concerned. Administration of primary education is the responsibility of Canton's governments.

    7. Personal Liberty
    Every Swiss citizen has been ensured personal freedom and none can be detained unlawfully without his guilt proved in a court of law. All citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the territory of the state. They enjoy all family rights including right to privacy. In short, Swiss citizens enjoy all fundamental freedoms as are secured in modern democratic states.

    8. Political Rights
    All Swiss citizens enjoy equal political rights necessary for political participation. The democratic traditions of this country are far advanced to those of most of the other democracies. All citizens have been given the right to vote on the basis of universal suffrage. Through different political devices, the citizens participate directly in political decision-making and in enactment of laws. The people are generally taken into confidence through Referendum on all important policy matters. The system of direct democracy in its pristine form, still flourishes at local level in an age of direct democracy.

    9. Representation of Woman

    It was on 7th February, 1971 that women were enfranchised as a result of referendum, prior to that they remained deprived of the right to vote. In October, 1984 the Federal Assembly elected first lady Cabinet Minister, 'Dr. Beth Kopp, a member of the Radical Democratic Party. She became head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police and was elected Vice-President of the country in 1989.
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    Item Reviewed: Silent Features of Swiss Federal Constitution Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Usman Ali
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