Parties and consociationalism in Switzerland 1
Pascal Sciarini2and Simon Hug3
Political parties play a central role in classic consociational countries. On their shoulders falls the duty to control their followers, and at the same time to mediate conflicts prevalent in society. While accommodative decision-making is certainly a characteristic element in Swiss democracy, the role political parties play in these processes is less clear. There are several institutional and political factors, which together may well explain the endemic weakness of Swiss political parties. Their limited role in the accommodating decision-making processes questions the strict applicability of the traditional consociational model to Switzerland. Even without this element, Switzerland has often been considered a borderline case for consociationalist theory.
In this chapter we would like to shed some new light from a different angle on the role political parties play in the Swiss political system. Drawing on a series of different research projects, we attempt to bring together as much information as possible to allow us to assess the interaction both among political parties and between political parties and their followers. These two types of interactions are of crucial importance to gain a better understanding of the role played by political parties in a consociational country.
We start our presentation with a thorough discussion of the debate on whether Switzerland can be considered as a consociational country. A series of authors have rejected this idea, citing several specificities and characteristics both of Swiss society and the Swiss political system. Based on this discussion, the third section presents a detailed account of the linkages between the Swiss parties and their followers. In the fourth section we turn to the role that political parties play in the political system. Using different indicators, we show how strongly the major political parties collude and occupy the centre of the political stage. As we will show, several institutional particularities of the Swiss political system render these linkages more difficult for the parties and have diminished their influence. Finally, in the conclusion we attempt to assess whether consociational practices are disappearing in Switzerland, or whether they are as vigorous as ever.