Federal Council elections since 1848

The members of Parliament elect the federal councillors by secret ballot. National Council member Arnold Koller, later to become federal councillor, casts his ballot at the Federal Council elections of 10 December 1986. (KEYSTONE/Str)

Federal Council elections

The members of the Federal Council are elected individually. Afterwards, the president and vice president of the Swiss Confederation are elected for the coming year. Serving members of the Federal Council stand for re-election in the order of their length of time in office.


  • The United Federal Assembly elects one member of the Federal Council after the other by secret ballot and in several rounds of voting.
  • In the first two rounds any person eligible for election maybe voted for, whether they want to stand or not.
  • Following the third round, no new candidates are permitted. If no one has achieved an absolute majority, the person with the lowest number of votes is eliminated.
  • This process is repeated for as long as it takes for a candidate to achieve an absolute majority and thus be elected.
  • The members of the Federal Council are elected for a four-year term of office.

Term of office and resignation

On average, federal councillors serve for 10 years. The longest serving federal councillor was Carl Schenk, who spent 32 years in office in the 19th century. Another long-serving member was Guiseppe Motta, who served for 28 years, through both World Wars. In the more recent past, the 15 years spent in office by Kurt Furgler, Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, Kaspar Villiger and Moritz Leuenberger are worthy of mention. There is no limit on the term of office and no procedure for a vote of no confidence. Serving federal councillors normally make their own decision on when to stand down. Now and then, however, their hand is forced by their party or by parliament. It is very rare for serving federal councillors who stand again for office not to be re-elected. Since 1848, this has happened four times. (Ulrich Ochsenbein 1854, Jean-Jacques Challet-Venel 1872, Ruth Metzler 2003, Christoph Blocher 2007).

Would you like to re-live past Federal Council elections?

Organising the elections to the Federal Council is a task for parliament, and video recordings of the procedure and the verbal transcripts can be found on parlament.ch.

Questions about the Federal Council elections?

Parliament has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about the Federal Council elections, along with their answers 

 Parliament - Federal Council elections

Federal councillors who have not accepted their election

Occasionally, federal councillors have been elected, but have not accepted office. The most recent example was Francis Matthey, who declined office so that Ruth Dreifuss could be elected as the second woman to serve in the Federal Council.

Last modification 05.11.2015

Top of page