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ECPR Rising Star Award

Parliamentary Opposition in Non-Parliamentary Systems: Continuities and Changes in Switzerland Since 1990s

Political Parties
Andrea Pilotti
Université de Lausanne
Andrea Pilotti
Université de Lausanne
Yannis Papadopoulos
Université de Lausanne

According to a widespread academic opinion, the Swiss regime is neither parliamentary nor presidential (Lijphart 1999). It displays some elements of both models (Varone 2004). Oppositional behaviour in Switzerland can be expressed normally by the refusal of the general discussion on a bill, the (not frequent, even for opponents) refusal of the bill at the final vote, or by amendments during the debate on the different articles of the law. We can also consider the most binding among the propositional instruments, such as parliamentary initiatives (or parliamentary motions, the latter leaving more discretion to the government), as oppositional tools as well. They aim at generating legislation in the absence of governmental initiation (but this may denote neglect or other priorities, not lack of will).
The degree of parliamentary opposition is historically low in the Swiss Parliament. This situation is related to the consensual form of democracy (Konkordanzdemokratie) characterizing the Swiss political system, itself largely an indirect effect of the risk of a veto through the referendum in the end of the policy process.
Kerr (1978) has distinguished four basic types of parliamentary opposition in Federal Assembly : the partisan opposition, the factional opposition, the ritualistic opposition and the corporatist opposition. Kerr’s typology seems still useful to identify and classify the parliamentary opposition in Switzerland following the main issues in Swiss politics. However, more recently partisan opposition is on the rise and factional opposition not very important: polarization generates partisan cohesion and divides between ideological camps.
Our paper aims to explain how the parliamentary opposition in Switzerland is changed, especially given the change of electoral shares of the four main Swiss parties (rise of the Swiss People’s Party, weakening of the Radicals and Christian Democrats) and the increasing polarization since 1990s.
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