Monday, October 04, 2004

IN THE SPOTLIGHT - OP-ED: Magic Formula vs. direct democracy - something's gotta give?

From the other side of the Atlantic, the current cock fight between Swiss Federal Councilmen Couchepin and Blocher looks a lot like a farce. Two of its aspects deserve special mention.

First, Pascal Couchepin has initiated a complete communications desaster. By unwisely rushing ahead with his untempered accusations he does commit the very crime he accuses Blocher of. The Secretary of the SVP, Ueli Maurer, in turn reproached Couchepin of trying to manipulate the people. Ironically, he's right. Maurer could handily spin the attack back on Couchepin, and give Blocher a free ride in publicity. While Couchepin's manoeuver is discussed by experts and the media, Blocher is in the headlines without having to say a single word. Mr. Couchepin's communications strategy behind this remains his secret.

Second, the actual issue of the magical formula of governing vs. direct democracy seems to escape the participants of the controversy around Mr. Blocher's role in the Federal Council. The real question at hand, namely how the Swiss intend to do politics, now and in the future, is blurred by the - not very original - accusations ad personam of Mr. Blocher.

Yet, the talk about "democracy with brakes" versus the "totalitarian direct democracy" reveals one thing: the magical formula is a fragile tool used to tamper the radicality of the principle of direct democracy. The principle of concordance of a representative-elected Federal Council and the sovereignty of the people are at odds.

Something's gotta give: Swiss leaders will have to decide soon, whether they understand themselves as ministers, i.e. servants of the people or as a special caste that knows better how to lead and rule the country. The debate about this better start sooner than later - provided the appropriate means of communications are in place.

What do you think? Let's talk about it!


At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can imagine that working with Mr. Blocher must be extremly difficult at times. The strain obviously shows in "untempered accusations". Given the administrations usual policy that no news is good news, I welcome such sudden outburst, because they are, after all, honest.

Background for those who haven't heard it yet: Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin broke cabinet ranks on Sunday, branding Justice Minister Christoph Blocher – a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party – as a danger to democracy. A public spat between members of the country’s seven-strong cabinet is practically unheard of in Switzerland, where disputes normally take place behind closed doors.


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