Swiss direct democracy is great but…

Swiss direct democracy is, by far, the most advanced democracy in the World. This is so because the Swiss people have the power to do things the people in other democracies can not even dream of.

The Swiss can, and do, stop laws passed by their parliament. They can also ratify or reject treaties between Switzerland and other countries. Swiss citizens can also propose changes and change the constitution. Any change to the Swiss constitution also needs explicit people approval.

But Switzerland is not 100% a direct democracy, Switzerland is a mix of representative and direct democracy. It is a direct democracy because all key authority resides in the people. Switzerland is a representative democracy also because the Swiss people elect representatives to the Swiss Parliament.

However, because the Swiss people have more power than parliament and the executive, Switzerland is more a direct democracy than a representative democracy.

This is how it works; Swiss voters elect their representatives to parliament. The Swiss parliament is known as the Federal Assembly. The Federal Assembly has two chambers; the National Council and the Council of States. The members of both chambers are directly elected by the people.

It is the members of both chambers who select the seven members of the Swiss federal executive.

The Swiss Parliament can elect any adult Swiss citizen to serve in the Federal Government executive; in reality only members of the upper and lower houses are elected.

It seems odd that in a country where ordinary citizens have so much power, they do not have the right to choose their government. In Switzerland, the politicians elect other politicians to run the country. I believe that should not happen; the people should elect the executive directly.

This is the composition of the Swiss Federal Government; two seats for the Free Democratic Party, Two seats for the Social Democratic Party, two seats for the Swiss People’s party, one seat for the Christian Democratic People’s Party. These parties, together, represent more than 70% of the voters.

You may think; “are you joking? Are you telling us that in Switzerland the major parties all govern cooperatively, in coalition?” Yes, that is how it works.

The Swiss call it “the magic formula” because it has given Switzerland amazing political stability.

Because the major parties govern, the Swiss avoid the concept of “party in power”, “party in the opposition”. With this system all major political tendencies are represented in the Swiss government.

By tradition, the executive is always partially renewed, never totally renewed, after each national election. This also helps government stability.

A multi-party executive has a natural tendency to develop decisions that have the support of all members of the executive.

The executive is also stable, and promotes gradual change, because there are no governments with absolute majorities. We all know absolute majority governments can ram through laws and policies, regardless of how voters feel.

The Swiss system of cooperative coalition government is also possible because their electoral system of proportional representation helps prevent the rise of absolute majorities.

But perhaps the key factor that led Swiss political parties to govern in coalition is direct democracy.

Direct democracy gives people the power to hold referendums on any decision or law by the executive or parliament.

Perhaps Swiss politicians realized there is no point in doing things that do not have the support of a clear majority of the people, because the people can stop them

The consensus-cooperative government system makes much more sense than the “government vs. opposition” system. Imagine a business, a religious organization, the military, a university, a charity, a sports club, any organization, governed on the basis of an executive and an opposition which always radically disagree. The formula of “government vs. opposition” is inefficient; the Swiss system is more efficient and more democratic

If you believe the representative democracy of your country needs improvement; Swiss-style direct democracy will bring that improvement.

One important factor to consider; for direct democracy to work it must be present at the national level, at the state-region-province level and the local level; it makes no sense to believe the people can have a culture of being capable, responsible and mature to make decisions at one level and not other levels. Such practices do not foster the development of engaged citizens much more than traditional representative democracy.

In spite of all the positive factors Swiss direct democracy has, I believe the Swiss people, not their elected representatives, should elect their government directly. Formulas can be developed to ensure government in cooperative coalition.

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