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Landsgemeinde - The directest of democracies

Landsgemeinde Glarus (
Switzerland is a direct democracy. It is probably one of the best examples of direct democracies all over the world. On the ground, this means the Swiss people can vote directly on any new law rather than having elected representatives vote for them. It also means that in addition to elections which take place every other year (federal and cantonal), the Swiss vote about 3 or 4 times a year on very diverse issues. That's a lot of voting!

Direct Democracy par excelence

In no other place is this direct democracy more visible than in the public voting of the two Swiss cantons Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. Instead of voting per letter or in polling booths like the rest of Switzerland, these cantons rely on the Landsgemeinde to settle matters.

What is the Landsgemeinde?

Literally 'Landsgemeinde' means "community of a canton" which is also a good graphic description of what is happening. All inhabitants of a canton who are entitled to vote (Swiss citizens over 18 years old) gather on a certain day to vote on laws or elect the cantonal government. This gathering takes place in the open, usually on a big square in the cantons capital. In order to enter the voters area a citizen has to show a voter identity card ("Stimmrechtsausweis") or bring along the family rapier ("Seitengewehr").

How does voting work?

The vote itself is almost too simple to believe. The government representatives, usually the ministers of the canton, read the voting proposal and people vote on it by raising one hand (or the voter identity card). If the result of the vote is clear (much more raised hands for "yes" than for "no") it is accepted instantly.

However, if it seems an even vote the head of the cantonal government has to decide. He may consult with the other members of the government before he decides but his decision is final and definitely valid. According to an unwritten rule this decision should always favor the non-government view.

Why doesn't everyone have Landsgemeinde?

Obviously, this system of public voting only works in smaller cantons. Both, Glarus and Appenzell Innerrhoden have less than 40'000 inhabitants (of which not everyone is eligible to vote). In a canton like Zurich there wouldn't even be a place to fit all voters. Unless you'd put them out on Lake Zurich!

Anyway, the Landsgemeinde is something very Swiss and actually quite an interesting thing to watch. I haven't had the chance to personally participate (not living in Glarus or Appenzell) but Swiss television covers the Landsgemeinde every year. You should take a look at it:



  1. Can't wait till I can vote! Only 2 more years and can apply for Swiss citizenship...


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