This article throws light upon the two methods of amendment of the Swiss constitution. The two methods are: 1. Process of Total Revision of the Constitution 2. Process of Partial Revision or Amendment of the Constitution.
Method # 1. Process of Total Revision of the Constitution:
A total revision of the constitution means the adoption of a new or totally revised constitution.
Total revision can be affected in any of the following three possible ways:
(i) If the Federal Parliament, by an approval of each of its two Houses, passes a new draft for a total revision of the Constitution, a referendum is held.
If the new draft gets the approval of the majority of voters as well as of the Cantons, it comes into operation. Rejection in the referendum by the voters or by the Cantons or by both, finally rejects the new draft and the old constitution continues to operate.
(ii) If one House of the Federal Parliament approves a draft for the total revision of the constitution but the other House rejects it, the issue is submitted to the people in a referendum. If the majority of the Swiss voters approve the proposal, the Federal Parliament is dissolved. Fresh elections are held.
Thereafter, a new Federal Parliament is constituted. It prepares and approves the draft of a revised (new) constitution. The same is then submitted to a referendum. If in this second referendum the new constitution is approved by both the majority of the Swiss voters as well as the Cantons, the old constitution ceases to operate and the new constitution comes into operation.
(iii) The proposal for a total revision of the constitution can also come through an Initiative. If 1,00,000 of the Swiss voters submit a proposal for a total revision of the constitution, the proposal is submitted to the people in a referendum. In case the proposal is supported by the majority of voters, the Federal Parliament then prepares a new constitution and it is put before the people in a referendum. If the new constitution is approved both by the majority of voters as well as of the Cantons, it becomes operative and replaces the old constitution.
After the successful total revision of the 1848 Constitution in 1874, three unsuccessful attempts at total revision of the constitution were made in 1880, 1935 and 1975. However, the attempt made in 1998-99 proved to be successful.
Draft of a total revision of the constitution was adopted by the Federal Parliament on 18 December 1998, it was adopted by a majority of the people and the Cantons in a referendum on 18 April, 1999, The Federal Parliament issued a decree for its enforcement on 28 September 1999 and the New Constitution (Totally revised Constitution) came into operation w. e .f. 1 January 2000.
Method # 2. Process of Partial Revision or Amendment of the Constitution:
A Partial Revision or an amendment of the Constitution can be initiated and adopted in two ways:
(1) A proposal for a partial revision of the constitution can be made by the two Houses of the Federal Parliament. Thereafter, the proposal is submitted to the people in a referendum. If the majority of the people as well as of the Cantons approves the proposal, the amendment gets incorporated in the Constitution.
(2) The proposal for a partial revision of the constitution can also come from the people. If 1, 00,000 of the Swiss voters submit a general proposal for a partial amendment of the constitution, the same is put before the people in a referendum. If it gets the approval of the majority of voters, the Federal Parliament drafts the amendment on the basis of the general proposal made by the people through an initiative.
This draft is then submitted to the people in a referendum. If the majority of both the Swiss voters and the Cantons approve it, the amendment gets incorporated in the constitution. However, if the initiative for a partial revision, as made by 1, 00,000 Swiss voters, is made in the form of a complete draft, the draft is discussed by the Federal Parliament.
The Federal Parliament gives its verdict either in its favour or against the proposed partial revision, in either case, the draft is submitted to the people in a referendum. If it is approved by a majority of both the people and the Cantons, the amendment gets incorporated in the constitution.
From the above account, it is clear that the process of amendment of the Swiss constitution is difficult, cumbersome and complicated. It gets completed in two stages: Proposal Stage and Approval Stage. The proposal can come either from the Federal Parliament or through a popular Initiative by 1, 00,000 Swiss voters.
At the approval stage the amendment proposal has to get the approval of the majority of both the Swiss Voters as well as of the Swiss Cantons. However in actual practice, the process has proved to be neither very rigid nor very complicated. Some eighty partial amendments were successfully incorporated in the constitution between 1874-1999.
In 1999, the Swiss Constitution was totally revised and consolidated by incorporating all the amendments made during 1874-1999 as well as by adding a bill of rights, social goals, more detailed description of the powers of the Federation and the principles governing relations between the Federation and the Cantons.
The Swiss Constitution has now 196 Articles, while before this total revision it had only 123 Articles. The maturity of the Swiss voters and the convention of working through a general consensus has softened in actual practice the rigidity of the formal process of amendment of the Constitution.
The most salient feature that makes the amendment process very distinctive the fact is that no amendment, total or partial, can be made in the constitution without the approval of the majority of the people as well as of the Cantons. A Canton is deemed to have approved the amendment if the majority of the people of that Canton approves the amendment.
In other words, popular sovereignty is really in operation in the sphere of the amendment- making process of the Swiss Constitution.