The Popular Initiative allows ordinary Swiss citizens to change, by referendum, any article of the Swiss Constitution, or even the whole Constitution itself.
This very different from what happens in representative democracies. I will give you some examples.
In France the people can not call referendums to change the constitution, only the government can.
In Germany, the citizens can not change the constitution but the politicians can, without consulting the people, some democracy!
In Italy, the citizens can initiate a referendum but the politicians decide if it goes ahead. Not very impressive either.
In the Netherlands, the people can call for a referendum, but the politicians can ignore the result; incredible in a democracy (rule by the people, for the people… blah, blah, blah).
In the United States, the people have no say on the Constitution; only the politicians and the Supreme court can do that, not very democratic.
I will now show you an example of practical, down to earth, formal people’s power, and how it works.
In 2016 many Swiss people became concerned about the conduct of Swiss multinational companies in Third World countries, in relation to human rights and the environment.
I am not for or against the conduct of such companies concerning those issues because I do not know enough to have a reasoned opinion. I am using this example to show how one tool of direct democracy works in Switzerland. It could also work in your country.
The people concerned with the behaviors of those companies drafted a document to amend the Swiss Constitution. Their intention was to make Swiss multinationals legally accountable in Switzerland for their behaviour in other countries.
Under Swiss law, citizens have 18 months to collect 100 000 signatures supporting the document articulating their concerns. If they succeed, the document goes to the Swiss Federal Government and the Swiss Parliament.
Once the group presents the proposal, the Government has to respond in one of three ways: accepting the proposal, rejecting it, or presenting a counterproposal to the people who presented the proposal.
The proponents of the proposal can accept or reject the Government counterproposal. If the proponents reject the counterproposal, the Government has no choice; the voters will decide in a national popular referendum. The decision is binding for the government.
If the majority of those who voted in the referendum support the proposal, and also if the proposal wins the popular vote in the majority of the Swiss Cantons (Roughly equivalent to the States in the United States, Australia or Germany, the Provinces in Canada, etc.), then the proposal is incorporated into the Swiss Constitution and becomes the law. This is one of the ways in which the Swiss people, directly, make laws.
In the case of this initiative, the people backing it collected 120 000 signatures within 18 months, as required.
In October 2016 they registered the proposal with the Government. After discussing the proposal for several months, the Executive recommended to the Parliament to reject the proposal.
Once it received the recommendation, a committee in the Parliament discussed the issue for about another year.
After much deliberation, the Parliament ( “lower house” ) agreed on a counterproposal. The other chamber of the Swiss Parliament, The Council of States then discussed this counter proposal. The Council of States represents the Swiss Cantons. The Swiss cantons are very important because Switzerland is a federation of states (the cantons). This means that there is a balance between the overall national vote and the votes in each Canton,
In 2018 the Council of States accepted the counter-proposal.
After much discussion among the politicians, and also with business and other parties, the Swiss Parliament sent, in June 2020, its counterproposal to the proponents of the initiative. The proponents of the initiative, who represent the 120 000 people who signed up supporting it and many others, rejected the counterproposal.
This means the initiative will now go to a national referendum for the voters to decide its fate.
The referendum will take place on November 29.
On the same date, the Swiss will also decide the fate of another initiative: “For a ban on financing producers of war material”.
The Swiss direct democracy system gives all parties ample time to discuss and negotiate over any issue of concern to citizens.
This open process strengthens democracy. If the initiative wins, those who argued against it can not say they were not heard. They can not say either the decision was not democratic. If the initiative loses, its proponents have no rational choice but to accept the results. What else can they do?; their initiative was widely known, was widely discussed, and the decision to reject it was democratic.
Only you can decide if direct democracy is more democratic than representative democracy. I know it is because in a direct democracy the people decide.
If you believe you should have control of what happens in your country, then direct democracy is for you.