Local Geneva Elections From the Outside


Mairie de Genève 2011 10 candidats.jpgRecently, Barack Obama announced the beginning of his campaign for the 2012 US Presidential election, 19 months before the election itself. Many in Switzerland were surprised that the announcement was made so early. People were also surprised when experts predicted that this would be the first campaign to cost over one billion dollars; Obama's 2008 campaign cost approximately $750 million, a record at the time.

The elections for communal executives in the Canton of Geneva are scheduled for April 17. Last Saturday I made some observations at the market in Carouge and Place de Molard, fascinated by the low-key aspects of the campaigns. I have participated in several political campaigns in the United States, and am always impressed by the Swiss system. Several people asked me to compare the two campaign styles and I will make some short observations, acutely aware of differences in size and my lack of professional expertise here.

A great deal of time and energy is spent on discussing the political parties positioning and alliances. The situation in Vernier seems to be a flagrant example. However, much less time is spent talking about the competence of the candidates to direct certain departments. Since departments are chosen among the elected, it would make more sense to see how competent people direct specific departments. This is certainly true as well at the cantonal and national levels.

The actual division of departments also is intriguing to a foreigner. On the cantonal level, department titles and responsibilities change with the elections. Again, one would assume that departments are assigned logically. One would also assume that not all executives are competent to run all departments.

Although I presume there is complete transparency behind campaign funding, little attention seems to be given to making public where the money comes from. Elaborate signs on trams from one party may indicate more resources, although it is not necessary that more money spent will win an election.

The United States has two major parties and the differences are generally clear. The proliferation of parties here makes it difficult to fully comprehend what each party stands for. In addition, a party's position in one canton is not necessarily the same as in another.

Finally, the idea of a militia government means that executives have other jobs. Does that affect their decisions? There are ethical questions here that are not at all evident.

In general, I find the campaigning extremely low-key, with the population having easy access to the candidates. I find the public debates on television such as Leman Bleu and in the media somewhat helpful, but the level of discourse, like in so many other places, often strident and unnecessarily personal. I am often asked to explain the American electoral system here in Switzerland. Since there are many foreigners in Switzerland, it would be interesting to see if clear explanations of the voting system here were available to the large foreign population.

There is little polling before the vote so we will all watch if there are major surprises April 17. Because of extensive polling in the United States, there are few surprises.

April 11, 2011



Lien permanent Catégories : Geneva 6 commentaires


  • Dear ones,

    Maybe you just forgot to mention that since now twenty years the City of Geneva elected mainly the socialist party, and the deal will be whether they will keep their actual position or will another party replace them, so let us see what happens on Sunday the 17th...?
    All the best.

  • How can you assume that there is complete transparency behind campaign funding when the public cannot know what money is coming in to which party from which organisation?
    I long ago gave up believing in people who claim openness and honesty but, as the saying goes, "won't put their money where their mouth is"!

  • @Mike Gerard,
    The "Grand Conseil", which is the Geneva parliament, elected an auditing group, which is called in french "la cour des comptes", and which I believe you might know about it. This auditing group,consists of members of different parties and they are supposed to verify what happens with each single penny spent by the state, on top of that, in the new project for the Geneva constitution to come, they might add on top of this auditing group, another private auditing company to reverify all the budget reports and expenses done by the main auditing group. It seems this year, they managed to do a real good job and recuperated quite a bit of money back!

  • Esmé,

    My point was not how money is spent by the state, nor whether or not it is spent wisely and efficiently. Rather, I asked why the public cannot apparently know who contributes how much to the campaign funds of the political parties. Daniel assumes complete transparency, but I do not see it.
    Do any big banks, large (Swiss or Multinational) companies or vary rich individuals donate money to political parties (not necessarily just those of the right: sometimes it can be beneficial to support both left and right)?
    Do the political parties detail openly what is their income and where it comes from?
    Names and numbers, not beliefs, please.

  • @Mike Gerard,

    Sorry to answer your question just now, but I was quite busy watching the final results of the geneva elections. Do you know that just any geneva citizen can go to the tax office, and ask to have a glance on just any body's tax declaration. A lot of people contribute financially and help different associations. Mainly the political parties are considered to be registered as associations. So once the donor's declaration is made, generally he mentions on his tax declaration the sums he attributed to the different associations. It is in his personal interest to do that, because he gets less taxes to pay, so you can easily find out how much money a company or bank contributed with a particular political party. Generally, some companies contribute financially-wise with different parties, not only with one single party, just in case...! On top of that, the political parties publish and are subject to an anual report to be delivered to their members and to the tax office, and even some of them publish on their website their annual report, others just mail it out to whoever is interested. There is no reason why in Switzerland, these fees should be secret. You can just write to any political party and ask for their annual report,no problem. It is not a crime in Switzerland to finance any association, as it it lowers your tax fees and this is totally acceptable...!

  • Esmé
    Yes, I too was watching for the results. As the British are preparing to vote on whether to change their "first past the post" voting system, it is interesting to see how the Swiss system tends towards stability (but Vernier is an interesting case!).
    As regards the financial support of political parties, which in the UK (to my understanding) MUST BE DISCLOSED, I do not see a parallel here. It is interesting to note that on my tax form I can declare money paid to political parties: I thought that it was only registered charitable associations!
    HOWEVER, the donors are clearly not obliged to declare contributions. I have also some slight doubts about whether the political parties will voluntarily declare in detail their income: perhaps you have some proof to the contrary.
    So, as an example, in Geneva how much has been contributed, and by whom, to the MCG (or the PDC, or the UDC, or the Verts, or any other party)? And, on the national level, how much has been paid by the major financial enterprises (UBS, CS, Nestlé, Roche, even Glencore) to political parties?

    When I have time, I will try to see what the political parties publish!

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