In the following example of the use of people power, you can see how issue-centered direct democracy overcomes the rigidity of political labels and ideology that dominate parliaments. It also overcomes the power of lobbies, not a small thing.
In the district of Upper Egandine in South East Switzerland is where this example of direct democracy took place.
Upper Egandine is a beautiful place. You probably recognize its famous resort of St. Moritz.
Upper Egandine is in the canton of Grisson, also known as the canton of Graubünden. There are 13 small towns and villages in Upper Egandine. St Moritz with 5000 inhabitants is the largest, Madulain, with about 200 is the smallest.
Being a beautiful region, it attracts urbanites from major Swiss cities. But located also in super clean, neat, prosperous, peaceful and well organized Switzerland, Upper Egandine also attracts well off people from other countries; Germans, French, English, Americans, etc.
Many of these people started to build second homes in Upper Egandine, in St. Moritz and other places.
As a result, in the early 2000s the local people became concerned the area was starting to lose its natural environment, as well as its cultural character and atmosphere.
Another major concern of the locals was the increase in the price of land; they could not compete with the well-off from outside when it came to buying land. This was affecting the house-buying ability of their children and of themselves
The person who best articulated the concerns was Franz Weber, a well known ecologist. Unfortunately, he died in 2019 at the nice old age of 91.
He said construction of second homes should be stopped or controlled much more tightly. At the time of the campaign, in some areas of Upper Egandine, one of every five homes was the second home of people from outside the area.
His position was initially supported by the “Left”; the Greens and Socialists, but soon conservatives joined because the issue also affected them. Wealthy local business conservatives might love more construction, but local ordinary conservatives did not.
Franz Weber started the initiative with a committee of 27 people. They gathered the 800 signatures required by the local law. The people of Upper Egandine voted; 71% of the voters decided that the building of second homes had to be stopped.
Several years later, what started in Upper Egandine became a national issue across Switzerland.
In 2012 both houses of the Swiss parliament debated a similar initiative. Both houses recommended that it be rejected. The upper house, known as the National Council, voted 123 to 61 against it, the “lower house”, the Council of States, also voted against it 29 to 10.
As you will guess, many businesses were also opposed to the initiative because it went against growth.
So, the politicians did not like the idea, neither did many business, but ordinary people did.
Fortunately, in Swiss democracy, if an initiative gathers the required number of signatures in the allowed time, it must be presented to all voters for approval or rejection, regardless of the votes in parliament.
The people decided; 50.6% of voters supported the initiative. Voter participation rate was 45%. Other issues have shown lower and higher participation rates. But we must not forget that during the year 80% of Swiss voters participate in referendums, this proves Swiss direct democracy is very alive.
In favour of the initiative were voters on the Left and the Right, Progressives and Conservatives, no party “loyalty” here.
The results clearly demonstrate how the elected representatives may not represent the will of the people on many issues.
This happens even in Switzerland, where elected representatives have learned to work more by consensus. They do that because they know the people can knock down what they want to do.
In traditional “representative” democracies parliamentarians and governments diverge from the will of the majority much more often than in Switzerland. This is because there are no people-initiated referendums to stop them. Think about that the next time you do not feel represented.
This initiative, and many others, demonstrate the Left-Right divide is often artificial. The reality is that, on many issues, people on the right and the left share the same concerns and vote in the same direction… if they have the opportunity to do so.
This means that direct democracy is also necessary to dial down the divide between Left and Right because it often does not exist. A less polarized atmosphere also facilitates rational decision-making.
I hope this small story helps motivate you to fight for direct democracy.