Late last week, Didier Burkhalter’s Liberal Party (PLR/FDP) announced its calendar for choosing someone to replace him after he announced his resignation on 14 June 2017. Switzerland will be kept guessing about the new leader through the summer, finding out only on 20 September 2017, one month and 10 days before Mr. Burkhalter finishes on 31 October.
Switzerland’s seven-member Federal Council, or executive branch of government, is typically made up of a balanced number of members from the main political parties. This balancing act is known as the magic formula, an unwritten understanding between the parties. When first applied in 1959, it resulted in two members from the Liberals (PLR/FDP), two from the Socialist Party (PS/SP), two from the Christian Democratic People’s Party (PDC/CVP), and one from the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP).
Then the balance was adjusted by reducing the number from the Christian Democratic People’s Party to one, while increasing the number from the Swiss People’s Party to two, after the party won 29% of the popular vote in 2003.
The other unwritten rule is maintaining a linguistic balance. Currently, with Didier Burkhalter, there are three Federal Councillors from French-speaking Switzerland: Guy Parmelin (UDC/SVP Vaud), Alain Berset (PS/SP Fribourg), and Didier Burkhalter (PLR/FDP Neuchâtel). The other four are all from German-speaking Switzerland.
Liberal Party president Petra Gössi and vice-president Christian Lüscher announced the timetable to the press last week, giving a green light to cantonal chapters of the party to put forward candidates for the Federal Council position, a process which will end on 11 August.
Gössi told the press that his party was assuming that the Liberal Party’s two Federal Council positions would not be challenged.
In addition, there was nothing in the presentation to suggest the party might upset the current linguistic balance. Christian Lüscher, alluded to this when he said that the party had a very strong presence in French-speaking Switzerland.
Once nominations are in from the cantons, a Liberal Party committee will look at them and present the results to a group of the party’s parliamentary members. This group will then present their chosen candidates to wider parliament on 1 September. And by 20 September 2017, we’ll know the final result.