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Parliamentary opposition in a consensus and non-parliamentary democracy: the case of Switzerland

Political Competition
Political Parties
Populism
Andrea Pilotti
Université de Lausanne
Andrea Pilotti
Université de Lausanne
Yannis Papadopoulos
Université de Lausanne
Jan Rosset
University of Geneva
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Abstract

With its collegial coalition government that includes all major parties and cannot be dismissed by the legislature, Switzerland has little tradition of parliamentary opposition. Yet recent changes, including the parliamentary reforms carried out in the 1990s with the goal of empowering the Federal Assembly, an increased polarization of the party system and a growing mediatisation of party politics, call for a reassessment of opposition behaviour in the Swiss parliament. Our analyses of bills and roll call votes between 1999 and 2011 reveal two important trends in that regard. First, with a substantial increase in the number of bills initiated from within the Federal Assembly, there is a sign of a progressive emancipation of the parliament as a whole, although government bills still enjoy high support. Second, the rise and the radicalization of the populist right (Swiss People’s Party - SVP) has led to the emergence of a second pole of opposition in Swiss politics, adding to the one formed by parties from the left. The SVP, a governmental party, has de facto become the most opposition-like party in Swiss politics. It sponsors far more parliamentary bills than it used to and its members have become the least supportive of government in final passage votes. Although the high point of these changes coincides with the economic crisis, we argue that these developments have to be read as the result of long term transformations initiated at the beginning of - or even before - the period under consideration.