“Words are not facts”; in direct democracy, like in everything else. 

It is easy to write into any Constitution impressive words. The challenge is turning them into laws that work.

Direct democracy is just one case of “words are not facts”.

If the constitution of your country contains beautiful statements about direct democracy, it is good, but not enough. Do not be satisfied.

Do not be satisfied either if the elected representatives pass a law about referendums.

I say this because in Taiwan they went through the process of “words are not facts”. They succeeded because they complained a lot and they complained intelligently. 

Because Taiwan’s constitution mentions popular referendums and the Taiwanese legislature also passed in 2003 the Referendum Act, there should be lots of referendums in Taiwan. Unfortunately no referendum took place because the following factors made it difficult to transition from words to facts:

Organizers had to persuade 0.5% of the eligible voters of Taiwan to sign the proposal for the referendum.

Because in Taiwan there are 18 million voters, organizers needed to collect 90 000 signatures. It was not an unreasonable figure. The problem was that this was just to present the proposal to the Referendum Review Commission.

The Referendum Review Commission was run by politicians. This gave the governing party the power to kill referendums in the bud. If the Commission said “no”, that was it, no referendum took place.

But even if the Commission said yes, the people needed to do a lot more work. They needed to collect signatures from 5% of registered voters. 5% of the voters of Taiwan means 900 000 signatures.

The law also required the government to apply the results of the referendum only if 50% of the voters took part in the referendum.

The people did not like this situation. They demonstrated over and over. They did it over nuclear energy (I referred to it in the previous post). The pressure forced the politicians to change the referendum law.

In 2017 they changed it. Now only 0.01% of the electorate needs to sign the proposal, just 1800 eligible voters.

The law also dropped the rule to sign up 5% (900 000) eligible voters to carry out the referendum. The new requirement was reduced to 1.5%. This means that instead of 900 000 eligible voters, only 270 000 needed to sign.

The need to have 50% voter participation was also dropped. Now only 25% voter participation is enough.

They disbanded the Referendum Review Commission. Referendum proposals are now presented to the Central Election Commission. Politicians have no longer the power to accept or reject proposals.

This is why Taiwan now has referendums. A “few” years had to pass to go from words to facts, but the Taiwanese did it!

A limitation in Taiwan’s law is that referendums can be held only every two years. This is one important difference with Switzerland.

The Swiss vote in referendums and initiatives 4 times per year. It is a lot of voting. I believe this is why Swiss voters have more control over politicians.

Frequent voting requires being informed,  but it beats being spectators, or getting angry at politicians because of what they decide, doesn’t it?

Do not worry about “voter fatigue”; over the course of year, 80% of the Swiss vote in referendums.

People do not get tired of voting if they know they count. It is like looking after the common house. People do not get tired of maintaining their houses because they own them. Frequent referendums on what is important for voters convey ownership of what happens to your country.

I welcome your positive or critical comments. Thank you



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