Landsgemeinde (open-air assembly)

Location

 Appenzell.

Time       

on the last Sunday in April.

 

Every year on the last Sunday in April, around 3,000 eligible voters gather together in Appenzell at the Landsgemeindeplatz, the historic village square, for the "Landsgemeinde" (cantonal assembly). Today this original form of democracy only exists in the canton of Glarus and Appenzell Innerrhoden; it was abolished in Appenzell Ausserrhoden in 1997. Elections take place and rulings are made on all items of business that have accrued over the year at the cantonal level.

 

Canton residents as well as Swiss citizens over the age of 18 with an established residence are eligible to vote. Since 1991 the voting card has served as authorisation to participate in the assembly. Men, however, are still allowed to present a bayonet – a sword that was generally passed down from generation to generation – which served as the only form of voting identification up until 1991. Women, who have only had the right to vote and be elected at the cantonal level in Appenzell Innerrhoden since 1991, simply carry their voting card with them. Speaking of voting rights for women: after the proposal of women's suffrage was rejected once again at the cantonal assembly in 1990, the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland came to the aid of women wanting to vote following the filing of a constitutional appeal. In 1991 women were then included in the inner circle for the first time.

 

The cantonal assembly begins with a festive church service (9:00 a.m.) at the St. Mauritius parish church – where the assembly used to convene in bad weather. The procession (12:00 noon), consisting of the administrative council (cantonal government), the cantonal court, the Rhodes ensign officers with their colourful banners and the guests of honour, moves from the town hall (Rathaus) to the Landsgemeindeplatz (historic town square). There the government and the summoner  ascend the tribune called the "Stuhl"or "chair, podium". Following the greeting, the president of the cantonal government, the "Landammann", summarises the government's accounts and opens the discussion. Now each and every person entitled to vote may take the podium (the "Stuhl") and raise their concerns or criticism.

 

The cantonal assembly elects two presidents of the cantonal government and the remaining five members of the administrative council (executive branch), each of whom are responsible for a department as well as the members of the cantonal court and its president. The historic titles of the members of government sound strange today: "Landammann" (president of the government) – two are elected and take turns every two years as the governing and idle president, "Statthalter" (head of the health and social department), "Säckelmesiter" (head of the finance department), "Landeshauptmann" (head of the agriculture and forestry department), "Bauherr" (head of the construction and environmental department) and "Landesfähnrich" (head of the judicial, police and military department). Voting is done by raising the right hand. If it is not possible to determine a majority, the show of hands must be individually counted. This procedure also applies for votes on items of business, which follow the elections.

 

The cantonal assembly passes and revises the cantonal constitution and laws, and rules on larger financial decisions and initiatives. Any bill can be discussed. In addition, each person entitled to vote may make proposals, which must be received in writing prior to 1 October of the year before the cantonal assembly. Nominations for elections are made by acclamation.

Critics of the cantonal assembly repeatedly bring up the argument of unequal access to the assembly, namely that those who are ill or out of town cannot participate. Furthermore, open voting by the raising of hands is also criticised since this can make it difficult for some businesspeople to vote based on their actual convictions, as they may fear possible disadvantages due to their actions.  Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the population continues to stand by the cantonal assembly.

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