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Landsgemeinde of May 7, 2006 in Glarus

The Landsgemeinde or "cantonal assembly" is one of the oldest and purest forms of direct democracy. It is still practised in two cantons of Switzerland.



Eligible citizens of the canton meet on a certain day in the open air to decide on laws and expenditures by the council. Everyone can debate a question. Voting is accomplished by those in favour of a motion raising their hands. Historically, or in Appenzell until the admission of women, the only proof of citizenship necessary for men to enter the voting area was to show their ceremonial sword or Swiss military sidearm (bayonet), this gave proof that you were a freeman allowed to bear arms and to vote. Landsgemeinde are known for their high degree of consensus and quality of debate.

The Landsgemeinde has always been a political instrument of rural areas; in city states like for example Lucerne, Schaffhausen, or Bern, a general assembly of all citizens had never been established and would also have been impractical. On district level, however, Landsgemeinden did also exist in centrally governed cantons; e.g. in the canton of Bern, there was a Landgemeinde of the Emmental.


Critics of the Landsgemeinde argue that the democratic fundamental right on anonymous voting by this form of democracy were not ensured. For practical reasons, the Landsgemeinde has been abolished in all but two cantons, where it is still the highest political institution of the canton: in Glarus it takes place on the first Sunday in May, while in Appenzell Innerrhoden it takes place on the last Sunday in April (except when it would coincide with Easter Sunday, in which case it is delayed by one week). All other cantons which once had implemented the Landsgemeinde on state level have abandoned it: as a general assembly of all citizens eligible to vote, it simply becomes impractical to hold when there are too many voters.

Current usage

A general assembly system is still in use in many Swiss municipalities, especially smaller ones. The legislative competence of the municipal assemblies (assemblée communale, Gemeindeversammlung) is determined by the cantons. On district level, Landsgemeinden still exist in many cantons; many Vereine (voluntary associations) also call their general assembly a "Landsgemeinde".

Of all the Swiss cantons, only eight rural cantons once used the Landsgemeinde on state level[1], six of which abolished it for practicality and anonymity reasons.

Uri last assembly of the Landgemeinde on May 6, 1928[2].
Schwyz abolished 1848.
Obwalden abolished by ballot vote on November 29, 1998[3].
Nidwalden abolished by resolution of the Landsgemeinde on December 1, 1996[4].
Glarus still in effect.
Zug abolished 1848.
Appenzell Innerrhoden still in effect.
Appenzell Ausserrhoden abolished by vote on September 28, 1997[5]; the last Landsgemeinde was on April 27, 1997[6].


  1. ^ Moser-Léchot, D. V.: Die Alte Eidgenossenschaft im 18. Jahrhundert, lecture notes, University of Berne, p. 12.
  2. ^ History of Schattdorf. The Landsgemeinde of Uri took place in Bötzlingen in the commune of Schattdorf.
  3. ^ Botschaft über die Gewährleistung der geänderten Verfassungen der Kantone Zürich, Obwalden, Solothurn, Waadt und Genf, Bundesblatt 1999, p. 5405.
  4. ^ Parlamentarische Initiative..., p. 5. See also Ruch, A.: Grundzüge der Rechtslehre, lecture notes, ETH Zürich, 2005; p. 16.
  5. ^ Constitution of the Canton Appenzell Outer Rhodes, footnotes on p. 13.
  6. ^ See Law No. 241.1 of the canton of Appenzell Outer Rhodes, subtitle, for the date. Also compare Bendix, J.: Brauchtum und Politik: Die Landsgemeinde in Appenzell Ausserrhoden, ISBN 3-85882-150-0.


See also

External links



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