Switzerland is governed under a federal system at three levels: the Confederation, the cantons and the communes. Thanks to direct democracy, citizens can have their say directly on decisions at all political levels. This wide range of opportunities for democratic participation plays a vital role in a country as geographically, culturally and linguistically varied as Switzerland.
Since becoming a federal state in 1848, Switzerland has expanded the opportunities it provides for democratic participation. Various instruments are used to include minorities as much as possible – a vital political feature in a country with a range of languages and cultures. The country's federal structure keeps the political process as close as possible to Swiss citizens. Of the three levels, the communes are the closest to the people, and are granted as many powers as possible. Powers are delegated upwards to the cantons and the Confederation only when this is necessary.
Switzerland is a direct democracy. Alongside the usual voting rights accorded in democracies, the Swiss people also have the right to vote on specific issues. Switzerland is governed by the Federal Council, a seven-member collegial body whose decisions are made by consensus. Federal councillors are elected by the United Federal Assembly, which consists of an upper and a lower chamber. The National Council is the lower house, and represents the people. The Council of States is the upper house, and represents the cantons. Delegates from eleven different parties set forward their views in the current parliament.