This is how the Swiss go about keeping their Constitution up to date.

To give you an idea how direct democracy works, let us start with citizen’s initiatives in Switzerland.

The Swiss law of citizen initiatives allows ANY citizen or any group, even if they are completely outside parliament, to propose a partial or total change to the constitution of the country.

If your country was as democratic as Switzerland, you would have the power to do that too.  All you would need to do is persuade 100 000 people, who are legally entitled to vote, to sign in support of your initiative.

You would have 18 months to collect the 100 000 signatures. In Switzerland the requirement is 100 000 signatures, in your country could be more or could be less, depending on its population and other criteria.

Is it not amazing that one single person or a small group, completely unrelated to political parties, unions, business lobbies, etc., can change the constitution of their country? It is not incredible they can do that without speaking with the politicians or obtaining their support at all?

If a Swiss voter has an idea for the constitution, that person can get the whole country to vote on his ot her proposal!

The law requires the person to get 7 to 20 voters to form the committee that will help him or her draft the proposal.

This requirement of 7 to 20 people, helps screen out absurd ideas. Anyone person alone can have an absurd idea that him or her looks like total common sense; it is more difficult to get seven other people to support the absurd idea.

Once you have your working group you contact the Swiss federal government. There they explain to you all the steps you have to follow.

Your committee will have to draft the contents of the initiative in any of Switzerland’s four official languages.

Because it is Federal initiative, the government will translate it into the other 3 official languages.

Then you prepare a list form for the 100 000 people will put their name.

In the next step the Swiss federal government publishes a notice that the initiative process has started. As I said, from the date of the notice, you have 18 months to get the 100 000 people to sign.

The validity of the signatures is determined by the local municipalities. This makes sense because they are best placed to detect fake signatures.

Obviously, to give the proposal widespread diffusion you will need money, donations, appearances in the media, debates, etc. People can help you with unlimited money and other resources.

Once you get the 100 000 signatures, which amounts to about 1% of the population, the referendum will be held. It will be held no “if or buts”, but it will not be held immediately.

The Swiss have many checks and balances; they like to go slow and sure footed.

Things go slow because the law allows the Swiss federal government and the federal parliament to have the opportunity to give their opinion on the initiative and to propose alternatives. Sometimes this takes years. Whatever their opinion, the referendum will be held, they can not stop it.

I am not sure if it is a good idea to allow politicians to slow down the process like the Swiss do. However, I respect the experience of the Swiss. They know more than anybody, except the Ancient Greeks, about direct democracy. By the way, the Greeks had direct democracy, not representative democracy.

The alternatives proposed by the politicians are included in the referendum. This means that when the people vote they do not vote just “yes” or “no” to your initiative, the can also vote for the alternative the government proposes and select it instead of yours.

It makes sense to keep the politicians involved because their experience and responsibilities may allow them to provide valuable input to the process. Perhaps they can improve your proposal.

So, why can’t the people in your country do what the Swiss can? There is only one reason; the politicians lose power with direct democracy. Nobody likes losing power, even if it is only a partial loss of power. Swiss politicians did not like it either, but the people pushed until the politicians passed the laws of direct democracy. The law of citizen initiatives is just one of many direct democracy laws.

At the local and canton (state or province) level, there are also many direct democracy laws.

In the Swiss direct democracy system the politicians do not lose their jobs, political parties do not disappear either. The same will happen in your country.

Because it is not a revolution to eliminate politicians, a number of your politicians may even support direct democracy. They may do it because they realize it promotes stability. Politicians, like all people with some common sense, like stability for themselves and their families.

Direct democracy is just the natural evolution of representative democracy, but you have to give politicians a push to bring it about.

Leave a Reply