Should I stay or should I go? By many standards, the job of a Swiss Federal Councillor is safer than most. The constitution grants them a level of job security that most of us can only dream about. But what happens when a politician falls out of favour with the nation? Join us as we take a look at two examples of politicians on the edge ...

AuteurGallinelli, Sven
Fonction Politics


Take Moritz Leuenberger (63): The Social Democrat was elected as a member of the Swiss Federal Council in 1995. Having now entered his 15th year in government one would assume he must surely have had his fill of involvement in the country's political machinery. So, is the leader of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (UVEK) preparing to step aside?

The rumours are rife, with even the smallest sign interpreted as proof of the politician's impending departure. One such example is Leuenberger's personal blog, Three months of blog inactivity--between December 16 and March 1--was all it took for the press to speculate that this was the first indication of Leuenberger's withdrawal preparations. The politician quickly dismissed the rumour, stating the gap to be nothing more than a "creative pause".

Enquiries with his press office also invariably proved unhelpful. When questioned about Leuenberger's plans for retirement, press spokesman Harald Hammel stated, "The answer to your question is as simple as [it is] widely known: Federal Councillor Moritz Leuenberger has been elected by Parliament for a four year [term]. He understands his election as an assignment that he will carry out until the end of the legislature. A premature departure is out of question."

As clear as this statement might appear, it begs more questions than it provides answers: the first of which is what happens when his term of office ends in 2011? Careful evaluation of the quote reveals that a premature resignation is excluded. It does not mention Leuenberger's plans regarding election for another term. Additional uncertainty comes through historical precedent set by former Federal Council members: many times, Swiss government ministers have stated their intention to remain in office, before--at a choice moment--stepping down far earlier than anyone expected.

"That's one of the idiosyncrasies of the Swiss political system," says political scientist, Andreas Ladner from the University of Lausanne. "It's the Federal Council member him- or herself who decides when to step back--and nobody else."


Shared responsibility

The constitution does not permit a Federal Councillor to be voted out during their term of office. The only chance to do so is at the end of the four-year Federal Council term, when each councillor wishing to remain in office, must be approved by votes in...

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