Liechtenstein - Background

Governments of Liechtenstein, 1945-present
Year Prime Minister Party composition
1945 Alexander Frick FBP, VU
1962 Gerard Batliner FBP, VU
1970 Alfred Hilbe VU, FBP
1974 Walter Kieber FBP, VU
1978 Hans Brunhart VU, FBP
1993 Markus Büchel FBP, VU
1993 Mario Frick VU, FBP (VU alone from 1997)
2001 Otmar Hasler FBP
2009 Klaus Tschütscher VU, FBP

 

Note: The first party indicates Prime Minister's affiliation.

FBP: Progressive Citizens' Party (Fortschrittliche Bürgerpartei)
VU: The Fatherland Union (Vaterländische Union)

Liechtenstein's history at a glance

Liechtenstein has been an independent state since 1719, except while under French domination briefly in the early 19th century. It abolished its army in 1868 and has managed to stay neutral and undamaged in all European wars since then. In 1919 Switzerland assumed responsibility for Liechtenstein’s diplomatic representation, replacing Austria.

Liechtenstein became a party to the Statute of the International Court of Justice in 1950, and in 1973 it joined the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Five years later, the principality was admitted to the Council of Europe. Liechtenstein became a member of the UN in September 1990 and in the following year it became a full member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Two parties have dominated the political scene in Liechtenstein: the Progressive Citizens’ Party of Liechtenstein (FBP) and the Patriotic Union (VU). The two ruled continously in  coalitional government from 1938 to 1997. FBP dominated government during the four decades prior to 1970 when it was defeated by VU at a general election to the Landtag. Four years later FBP regained its majority. In the parliamentary elections of 1978, VU won eight of the 15 seats, although with a minority of the votes cast, while the remaining seats were taken by the FBP, a distribution that remained equal after the following elections in 1982. Following a referendum in July 1984, women were granted the right to vote on a national basis. However, women were still not permitted to vote on communal affairs in three of Liechtenstein’s 11 communes until April 1986, when they were finally accorded full voting rights. An amendment to the constitution, declaring equality between men and women, took effect in 1992. In August 1984 Prince Franz Josef transferred executive power to his son, Prince Hans-Adam, although he remained titular head of state until his death in November 1989 when he was succeeded by Hans-Adam II.

In February 1986 women voted for the first time in a national election. The composition of the Landtag however remained unchanged. In January 1989 the parliament was dissolved by Prince Hans-Adam, following a dispute between VU and FBP regarding the construction of a new museum to accommodate the royal art collection. At the subsequent general election, which took place in March 1989, the number of seats in the Landtag was increased from 15 to 25; VU retained its majority, securing 13 seats, while FBP took the remaining 12 seats.

Politics in the new era

Liechtenstein is a parliamentary monarchy. According to the constitution, the government is a collegial body and consists of the head of government and four governmental councillors. The head of government and ministers are appointed by the prince, following the proposals of the parliament. Executive power is exercised by the government though strong powers are still concentrated with the prince. Liechtenstein has a multi-party system dominated by the conservative Progressive Citizens' Party and the conservative Fatherland Union/Patriotic Union.

At the general election of February 1993, VU lost its majority, taking only 11 of the Landtag ’s 25 seats. FBP again returned 12 representatives, and two seats were won by an environmentalist party, the Free List (FL). Lengthy negotiations resulted in the formation of a new coalition between FBP and VU. However, following a unanimous vote in the Landtag expressing ‘no confidence’ in Markus Büchel’s (FBP) leadership, he was dismissed from his post. At the following election the month after, VU regained its parliamentary majority, winning 13 seats, while FBP took 11 seats and FL secured one seat. VU became the dominant party in a new coalition with FBP, with Mario Frick of VU as head of government. VU, however, lost its majority in the next elections of 2001. VU administration’s popularity had been adversely affected by an unresolved dispute with Prince Hans-Adam over his demands for constitutional changes, notably with regard to appointments in the judiciary (the prince advocated that judges be nominated by the reigning monarch rather than by parliamentary deputies); the prince claimed that these amendments would benefit the people, whilst VU regarded them as an attempt to extend the royal prerogative. A new government comprising solely FBP, under the leadership of Otmar Hasler, took office on 5 April.

In March 2003, Liechtenstein's people overwhelmingly voted to give its prince more powers, including the right to dismiss governments and approve judicial nominees. Prince Hans Adam II had threatened to leave the country if his demands for more authority were not met. Before the vote, he had already possessed more power than any other European monarch. Prince Hans-Adam dismissed the findings of a commission established by the Council of Europe, which stated that the constitutional amendments would constitute a retrograde step for democracy and could lead to the isolation of Liechtenstein in Europe. In August 2003 he announced that he would give up the day-to-day ruling of the country in one year's time. In August 2004, his son, Prince Alois, became regent of Liechtenstein, while Hans Adam II remained the official head of state.

At the general election held in March 2005 FBP failed to retain an absolute majority, winning 12 of the 25 seats. VU won 10 seats while FL increased its representation from one seat to three. In April FBP and VU formed a coalition government, which comprised three representatives of FBP, including Hasler, who was once again appointed prime minister.

Blacklisted in 2000 as a center for money laundering, Liechtenstein toughened its laws and made major efforts to clean up its financial practices. In 2002, the country was removed from the  Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) blacklist.

Sources

Portal of the Principality of Liechtenstein: Prime Ministers since 1921

Inter-Parliamentary Union: PARLINE database on national parliaments

Recent History (Liechtenstein) , in Europa World online . London, Routledge. University of Bergen.