Switzerland - Local government
The Swiss Confederation consists of 23 sovereign cantons, three of which are divided into half-cantons (i.e., 20 cantons and six half-cantons). The most recent of these, Jura, was formed from six French-speaking districts in the German-speaking area of Bern Canton in 1978. In 1993, the German-speaking Laufental district of Beru joined the canton of Basel-Land. This was the first time a political unit in Switzerland left one canton to join another. Swiss cantons are highly autonomous and exercise wide administrative control, with the weak federal government controlling only foreign affairs, national security, customs, communications, and monetary policy. The cantons have their own constitutions and laws, and are responsible for their own public works, education, care of the poor, justice, and police forces. Local forms of government vary, but each canton has a legislative council (called Grand Conseil, Grosser Rat, Kantonsrat, or Gran Consiglio), which appoints a chief executive. In a few of the small cantons, the general assembly of all voting citizens, or Landesgemeinde, decides on major matters by voice vote; in the majority of the cantons, this ancient institution has been replaced by referendum. Communes, numbering over 3,000, are the basic units of local government. For the most part, Swiss districts (Bezirke), constituting a middle level of organization between the cantons and communes, are little more than judicial circuits.