Swiss Watching trivia, No 20: Parliament

August 20, 2010, 1 Comment

Switzerland may be 719 years old but its parliament only dates back to the Federal Constitution of 1848; the building itself (in Bern) wasn’t completed until 1902. The Federal Assembly, as the Swiss parliament is officially known, has two chambers: the smaller Council of States (Ständerat), where each of the 23 full cantons has two seats, and the National Council (Nationalrat), where the 200 seats are allocated according to cantonal population – Zürich has the most with 34. Overall, 13 political parties are represented. Parliament, elected every four years, is run as a part-time affair, sitting for 12 weeks a year in four three-week sessions. There are few full-time politicians, with most having day jobs as lawyers, teachers or doctors. Swiss MPs don’t get a salary but receive a daily allowance, and there’s no money for secretaries or assistants, let alone second homes or gravy trains. Parliament’s greatest power is that it elects the government (or Bundesrat). And the highest-ranked person in Switzerland is not the president but the speaker of the National Council.

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