Federal Council: This is how the election works


Successor to Maurer and Sommaruga

In 8 points: This is how the Federal Council election works

The successors of both Ueli Maurer and Simonetta Sommaruga will be determined on December 7th. Here you can find out how this will work in detail.

Did you know that you too might be able to stand as a candidate for the Federal Council – in theory? Or that in the end nobody has to find out who voted for which person?

Federal Council elections follow a strict procedure. This is clear, but not that uncomplicated! In view of the Federal Council elections on December 7th, we will take a closer look at this procedure and explain what happens before, during and after an election.

When is a Federal Council elected?

All seven members of the Federal Council must stand for re-election every four years. Normally there are no additional candidates here, only the Federal Councilors are standing for re-election. This overall renewal of the Federal Council takes place in the session after the National Council elections, which is traditionally a Wednesday at the end of October. This will be the case again in 2023.

However, if a member of the Federal Council resigns during his or her term of office, the new election takes place in the first parliamentary session after the official resignation of this member. In 2022 there were two resignations with Ueli Maurer and Simonetta Sommaruga. Their successors will be elected on December 7th.

Ueli Maurer and Simonetta Sommaruga both announced their resignations.

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Who can be elected?

Any and everyone! No, not quite, but: If you are a Swiss citizen with voting rights, you are theoretically absolutely entitled to run for the Federal Council – and to be elected. Neither prior candidacy nor membership in Parliament are required.

Once someone is a member of the Federal Council, she may no longer hold any other function or hold any other political office. And additional earnings are also not permitted: in addition to the office of Federal Councilor, no other gainful employment may be pursued, and board or similar mandates must also be given up.

Who decides on the “ticket” for a new Federal Councilor?

In the run-up to the Federal Council elections, the parties that are entitled to the vacated Federal Council seat discuss whom and how many candidates they want to nominate for election. If the so-called ticket has been decided, this will be communicated by the party.

It is important, however, that these are only recommendations. In the election, people can also be elected who were not nominated by the parties. This was the only way in which former Federal Councilor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf could be elected instead of Christoph Blocher.

Who elects a new Federal Councilor?

The United Federal Assembly, i.e. all members of the Estates and National Council elected by the people.

Parliamentarians in Bern.

Parliamentarians in Bern.

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What is taken into account when choosing?

The members of the Federal Assembly should ensure that the regions and language communities of Switzerland are “appropriately represented in the Federal Council” – as stated in the Federal Constitution. However, there are no precise rules on how this is achieved.

How does the Federal Council election work?

The Estates and National Councils elect the new Federal Council member in a secret ballot. This means that any name can be written on the ballot paper and the vote is not publicly visible.

The person who receives the absolute majority of the votes is elected, i.e.: one vote more than half of all valid votes. If this does not happen in the first ballot, the following rules apply:

  • Theoretically, any person can be elected in the first two ballots (as long as they are Swiss citizens).
  • Anyone who has received fewer than ten votes after two ballots is eliminated as a candidate. This then applies to all other elections.
  • From the third ballot, no new people can be elected, i.e. only those who have already received votes in the first two ballots.
  • If everyone has received more than ten votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is also eliminated from the third ballot. This also applies to all other ballots from here on out.
  • This procedure is repeated until a candidate achieves an absolute majority and is thus elected as the next member of the Federal Council.

What happens after the election?

If a member of the Federal Council is newly elected, they must declare to the United Federal Assembly whether they accept the election. Alternatively, an oath or a vow formula can be taken.

oath formula: I swear before Almighty God that I will obey the Constitution and the laws and diligently perform the duties of my office. vow formula: I pledge to obey the Constitution and the law and diligently perform the duties of my office.

The newly elected member takes office no later than two months after the election. This is usually the case on January 1 of the following year.

As a rule, a Federal Councilor is elected for four years. However, if a member fills a vacancy – as will be the case from December 2022 – then they must stand for re-election together with the other members in the next ordinary Federal Council elections.

How are the departments distributed?

If there is a change in the composition, the departments are reassigned. The Federal Council as a whole decides among itself which Federal Council will be the head of which department. Each Federal Councilor must take over the department assigned to her.

The so-called principle of seniority applies to distribution: those who have been members of the Federal Council for the longest time express their wishes first, and the two newcomers last. If the seven federal councilors cannot agree, a vote is taken. After this year’s Federal Council election, the order will be as follows:

Interior Minister Alain Berset (took office in 2012), Economy Minister Guy Parmelin (2016), Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (2017), Defense Minister Viola Amherd (2019), Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter (2019), both new candidates

With the departures of Sommaruga and Maurer, the DETEC (Department for the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications) and the FDF (Finance Department) have become vacant.


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