Swiss direct democracy is not perfect, but even when it performs “undemocratically” is far more representative than any representative democracy.
Direct democracy transfers power from the politicians and the elites to the people. This has created a chain reaction of good collateral effects that mitigate flaws and mistakes.
In Swiss direct democracy, like it would be the case in any properly functioning direct democracy, the politicians have to govern for most of the voters; they have no choice because the voters have the power to prevail over the politicians on any issue of importance.
This has produced a politically unifying effect; the major political parties have realized that it only makes sense to draft laws supported by the majority of the Swiss people. To do that, the parties work cooperatively in a coalition.
Because the major parties work together, whatever the government does, in the executive or the legislative, normally has the support of most voters, if it does not it will not fly.
The coalition government in Switzerland does not happen because, like is the case in other democracies, the governing party lost its majority and has to seek allies. In Switzerland, the coalition government is the norm since 1959.
The parties who share power in Switzerland represent 70% to 85% of the voters. This is a vast majority, bigger than what majority governments have in other democracies.
I do not know why Swiss voters do not give an absolute majority to any party, but they do not. I will look into that in another post.
The smaller parties do not take part in government but can, like any other group of Swiss citizens, gather signatures to call for referendums and stop what the government wants to do. The referendum clears the air democratically in the open. This does not happen in a representative democracy.
Another curious aspect of Swiss direct democracy is how it handles changes in the political support of governing parties. It does not seem to very fair, but is interesting.
For example, in the 2019 Swiss federal election, the Green Party managed to elect 28 parliamentarians, surpassing the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland (CVP), who obtained 25.
Before the election the CVP was one of the four major parties in the Swiss government, after the election it dropped to fifth place.
Traditionally, in Switzerland, the four parties who elected the most parliamentarians form the government.
Perhaps because of established ties, or because of political debts among the traditional major parties, the other three parties agreed that the CVP would continue in government. They left the Green Party out. I suppose they did not want to include a fifth party because if they did, one of the other parties would lose a spot in the fixed 7 seat government.
In direct democracy, the power of government is much lower than in representative democracies. What happened to the Greens in Switzerland is probably unfair, but not too important. If the Greens feel they have a popular position in an issue, on even on this issue, they can get a referendum going.
The situation illustrates how the great power the Swiss people have over the politicians, keeps the effects of the unfair decisions by politicians to a minimum.
The power of the voter in Switzerland also makes unnecessary the “checks and balances” people talk so much about in representative democracies. In a direct democracy, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary are constantly “checked” and “balanced” by the Swiss people.
In direct democracy what really counts is the power of the people. Should it not count wherever you are?