VOL. 2, NO. 1, PGS. 15–24


Switzerland’s Democratic System
A conversation with Hans-Peter Schaub

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

Hans-Peter Schaub is a Researcher at Année Politique Suisse of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern.

What is democracy? What are its fundamental principles?

This question is not easy to answer because there is not a single definition of democracy. Over the centuries there have been several competing conceptions of what democracy is, and this is still true today. My somewhat simplifying definition goes as follows: democracy is a political system in which those affected by political decisions are the same ones who establish their direction, on an equal and regular basis.

As far as fundamental principles are concerned, we can single out three basic elements that are, in one way or another, fundamental for most conceptions of democracy: “freedom”, “equality” and “control”. It is around these three principles that democracy is organized. “Freedom” refers, for example, to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The principle of “equality” asserts that every citizen should have an equal chance to influence decision-making (“one man, one vote”) and to access political power. The principle of “control” refers to several mechanisms of exerting control on those holding political power. One mechanism of control is the checks and balances between the branches of power (legislative, executive and judiciary) and between governing and non-governing parties. Elections and referendums are also control mechanisms, which are exercised by citizens. Free media can also exert control by acting as public watchdogs.

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