A FEW years ago, I was on a bus in Zurich, sitting opposite a man I vaguely recognised. Then it stuck me; it was the Swiss President. It's typical of Switzerland that the President travels on public transport. After all, he is just another citizen in a nation where democracy is direct and the voters can express their choices. There are some peculiarities, many of which go back to the turbulent era when the Swiss Federation was born. The Landsgemeinde, or open-air parliaments, are still held each spring in Canton Glarus and some other localities. Here democracy exists in its purist form, with people crowded in the town squares voting by show of hands. Those with voting rights choose the district government and officials. Several other issues are also decided by a show of hands. The struggle over the concept of people's rights and direct democracy continued for over a century. The aim was to keep local power in local hands and prevent over-centralisation. Today, those rights are jealously guarded. The Swiss, on a national level, can organise popular initiatives, demanding changes in the constitution. If a minimum of 100,000 voters sign a petition, it forces a ballot. This puts power directly into the hands of the people and the government is forced to follow the voters. Other referendums apply to federal laws; these can be challenged by 50,000 voters who can force a national poll. If the government loses, the law is changed. The system works from the top down to local levels. If a community is angered by a new road project, it can vote to have it stopped. Some complain this system of direct power for the people can restrict development. The Swiss care not for such criticism; they fought for their rights to have their say and no government would dare tamper with the system. In Bern, the casual manner of government, in which there is usually only seven members, is reflected by members of Parliament walking around the small city without bodyguards. Below the town square in steel chambers is the Swiss gold reserve and above this unseen treasure the Cabinet members stroll to an old family restaurant for a weekly lunch. It is here, over salad and boiled beef, that the nations affairs are decided, many Swiss say. This attitude exists because these are not cynical professional politicians; all members of Parliament are expected to fulfil their official duties while doing their normal jobs. The presidency rotates among the seven members of the Cabinet.