What did Swiss voters decide in the November 29th referendums?

The results of the two referendums are “Nein”, “non”, “no”, “na”.

“Na” is “no” in Romansh, one of the four national languages of Switzerland,  spoken by just sixty thousand people.

Let me say a few things about minorities before I continue with the referendums.

Some people in representative democracies say they fear direct democracy because it could become the “tyranny of the majority over the minority”; perhaps they should study direct democracy a little more.

I suppose you know Switzerland is a direct, or essentially direct, democracy.

The country has a population of 8.5 million people. Of the 8.5 million 4.3 million speak German, 1.5 million speak French, 560 000 speak Italian, and only 60 000 speak Romansh.

How can one speak of “the tyranny of the majority over the minority”, when a language spoken by only 60 000 people has not only not disappeared, but is one of the four official languages of the country?

It makes no sense to fear direct democracy when the facts show it is the best system to protect minorities and their languages. I know of no representative democracy who recognizes as official languages the languages of tiny minorities, as Switzerland has.

Therefore, it makes no sense to fear direct democracy because “it could result in the oppression of minorities”; perhaps the media and others are not informing them very well.

There is not one case of a direct democracy oppressing its minorities, but there are quite a few examples of representative democracies doing the oppressing… Of course, dictatorships, non-religious and religious, are much more oppressive, but those are inhumane regimes, not much one can expect of them.

Let me now continue with the two referendums.

The voters rejected the proposal in the first referendum; it dealt with a popular initiative to decide if Switzerland should hold Swiss companies, with operations in foreign countries, legally responsible in Switzerland for the violation of international laws on human rights and the environment.

The proposal, if approved, would also make Swiss companies responsible in Switzerland for violations of those laws by their local suppliers in foreign countries.

The voters rejected the proposal, although the majority of Swiss voted “yes” to approve it. This is how it works; for the proposal to pass and become the law of the land, it had to get a “yes” by the majority of the people of Switzerland, but it also had to win the popular vote in the majority of the cantons, and it did not.

The proposal in the second referendum received a “no” also; it proposed to forbid the Swiss government and Swiss financial companies from investing in, or financing, Swiss weapons manufacturers.

This second proposal did not obtain the support of the majority of voters in Switzerland overall, and it also failed to win in the majority of the cantons.

One interesting aspect of Swiss referendums is that the fear of them, at the national, cantonal, and local level, forces Swiss governments to seek consensus before making important decisions or pass laws.

They do that because if they do not, an individual, a group of people, a minority political party, might succeed at organizing a referendum on whatever government wants to do, and governments know they can lose a referendum. To avoid that they negotiate, they give and take, they are flexible, the conservatives accept some demands of the progressives, and vice-versa. But they do not always succeed.

In representative democracies, things are very different;  governments have no such fear because people can not call referendums. Such governments do not fear that the people may stop dead a big project or a law the government wants to develop.

In representative democracies, the major fear is losing the next election, which usually is a few years away. This allows governments in many representative democracies to govern, too often, with their backs to the majority and the minorities, but with their faces to the lobbies…

If you want your country to respect the minorities, and the majority, direct democracy is a better system than representative democracy.

Let us push for direct democracy in our countries!

Tomorrow, November 29th, 2020, the Swiss people make two important decisions.

In the first one, they will decide if Swiss companies must comply with Swiss and international law on human rights, corruption, and the environment.

You probably know that Switzerland, despite its relatively small size; only 8.5 million people, is the home of some huge multinationals; Nestlé (food and consumer goods), Novartis (pharmaceuticals), UBS (banking), Zurich insurance, Roche (pharmaceuticals), Glencore (mining), Credit Suisse (banking), Swiss Re (insurance), ACE-CHUBB (insurance), are among the better known, but there are many other Swiss companies active all over the World

This means the Swiss people are not just voting on moral issues of this nature because they do not really affect them economically; the results of the referendum can have a large economic impact in their own country too.

In representative democracies, voters can watch the verbal “fireworks” in the media about these issues, they can also demonstrate and scream, but they can decide nothing. They can’t because the constitutions of their countries, or the facts on the ground, give the elected representatives, not the people, the power to decide issues; the people can only elect politicians.

In the US, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, in the UK, etc., the people can vote, but they can not decide issues; the Swiss can.

The second decision the Swiss will make is if the financing of war material manufacturers should be banned.

Just like with the multinationals I mentioned above, Switzerland is also home to some world-size weapons manufacturers.

The voters will decide if the Swiss National Bank, the pension funds and foundations will be banned from holding shares of, or lending money to, weapons manufacturers.

Voters will also decide if the Swiss government will have to take the initiative to ban investing in large defence companies by all large international banks and international insurance companies, from any country.

I do not enter the discussion of the pros and cons of these issues.  My interest is direct democracy; “let my people decide”.

It is also important to know that in Switzerland, when an issue goes to a referendum, the government presents to the voters an alternative option; the government hopes its proposal will be more attractive to most voters.

This means that, even if the proponents of the “people’s” proposal lose the referendum, they don’t lose “everything” because the government proposal will become the law, if it wins the referendum. Normally, the government proposal leaves out the more controversial aspects of the “people’s” proposal. This often makes it more acceptable to some voters.

Each referendum is also preceded by ample debate. Besides, all potential voters receive information packages with the position of the government, the position of the referendum committee and the positions of the political parties. In this way voters interested in the issues can make a reasonably informed decision. This also helps losers accept defeat because they “lost” in a fair way.

This process helps avoid a “hard defeat” to the proponents of the referendum. As they say in Switzerland; “this is the country of happy losers”. This is so because “the losers” win something, even if what they proposed is rejected; it is a pretty good formula to help prevent bitterness and polarisation, don’t you think?

It also helps avoid bitterness that nothing stops the losers from bringing about another referendum later on; they can change the proposal, or perhaps the voters have changed their minds; imagine, for example, a scandal where a Swiss corporation is involved in major violations of human rights laws, it could swiftly change the mood of the public.

Nobody knows what can happen in tomorrow’s vote; the latest polls show the number of supporters of both “people’s” initiatives is dropping, even if it still is over or near 50%. We also know polls have a shaky reputation; Winston Churchill said: “There are lies, big lies, and statistics”; polling is a branch of statistics…

How come a common-sense idea, like direct democracy, is taking so long to catch on, even in mature representative democracies? Perhaps the explanation lies in the anonymous English saying: “common sense is so scarce that often it is mistaken for genius”.

I hope the news of tomorrow’s referendum will prompt people our countries to ask each other: “why can’t we decide things like that here?”

Check the news tomorrow to see what the people in Switzerland decided.

Representative democracy is an elected manipulative oligarchy

We elect our representatives, that is great…, but once they are in, they do not have to listen to us, the ordinary voters until the next election. Legally they do not have to listen to any voters, not even to the voters who voted for them. The system however allows them to, legally, listen to the lobbies. Indirectly, the representative democracy system promotes the power of the lobbies.

The only motivator for the elected politicians to listen to ordinary voters is the fear of not getting re-elected.

This is a weak motivator for several reasons.

One is that the next election is normally several years away. In that period the politicians, in the executive and the legislative, do things at the beginning of their mandate that annoys the majority voters, even their own voters. They do that because they have several years before the next election to manipulate the voters.

We also see how, when election time comes, governments distribute all sorts of “goodies”. They also distribute promises in blatant attempts to manipulate voters.

In a representative democracy, the parties not in power do similar things; they try to manipulate voters with promises. If they gain power, regardless of their ideology, they will do exactly the same as the party that was in power; ignore the voters often. They will do whatever they think is right, or convenient, and hope the voters forget at election time.

Representative democracy still is far superior to any authoritarian or totalitarian regime.  We are not interested in such regimes here; the people in those countries will have to overthrow them.

But, what sort of democracy is it, one in which the “will of the people” is often ignored or, even worse, when the elected government can do things contrary to the will of the people?

Representative democracy is “manipulative democracy”. No wonder that in representative democracies more and more people are losing trust in their governments.

The system they have in Switzerland is not perfect, but overcomes the key weakness of representative democracy.

In Switzerland, only 1% of the population, or even half of that in some situations, can decide that a decision by the executive, or a law approved by the legislature, must go to a national referendum, and they do that regularly. With the referendum, the people decide, not the executive of the legislature.

One of the strongest arguments for direct democracy is that it allows ordinary voters to stop decisions made by the executive and the legislative, but it is not the only one. Swiss ordinary voters do not have “remember and wait”, “wait and remember”, till the next election; they organize a referendum for the majority to decide.

Neither the Swiss executive, nor the legislature, can stop referendums. They can not ignore the results either, because the results are binding.

The Swiss constitution also keeps the judges out of the referendums. Swiss judges, even Supreme Court judges, can not overturn the results of popular referendums. The only area in which referendums in Switzerland are subject to judicial review is to determine if the referendum was carried out in a fair manner.

Swiss courts can declare a referendum invalid if, for example, they find voters did not receive adequate information before the vote. But they cannot overturn the results of a correctly executed referendum.

In other places, it is not like that.

In the US there are no referendums at the national level; this is very weak people’s power, but in California they do. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the results of popular referendums are overturned by the courts over there. This is weak people’s power too.

What happened to: “democracy: government by the people and for the people”, if the judges toss the will of the people out the window?

If the Ancient Greeks woke up, they would laugh, or become furious, once they saw how democracy has been twisted out of shape by representative democracy. Only the Swiss could look at the Greeks in the eye, but not forcefully either, because even Swiss direct democracy falls a bit short of Greek direct democracy.

 

 

What will the Swiss people decide on Nov. 29th? What will your people decide?

The power of the Swiss people, under Swiss direct democracy, is not like the power of the people in representative democracies.

You would not know this if you just read the constitutions of representative democracies; in one form or another they all state that “the people have given themselves the constitution”, “that the will of the people shall prevail”, etc.

By reading that, you would think that the people of those democracies also decide key issues, but it is not like that at all.

Practically in all representative democracies, be they “presidential” or “parliamentarian”, the executive, the elected representatives, or the judiciary, make all decisions; the people are spectators. Only at election time, the people make one decision that counts.

The result is the progressive disenchantment with the governments of representative democracies; more and more ordinary people feel  “the government does not listen to us”.

In the better-governed representative democracies, such as the Scandinavians, the government traditionally practices wide and deep consultation with representatives of many groups, but it does that because it wants to, because the politicians have the good sense to do that, not because by law they have to.

But even then, there is no system for the government to do precisely what the majority of the population wants, because the people do not vote and decide

Even in Scandinavian countries, the governments seem to be slipping in governance, for example, Sweden.

In Sweden, government decisions on immigration have polarized the country. They polarized the country because there has not been sufficiently open, rational discussion of the issue, followed by a binding popular referendum. If there had been, the losers would be much more likely to accept the result; polarization would then not arise, at least not to the same degree.

Massive migration is supported by many Swedes and opposed by many other Swedes. I am not discussing if mass migration is right or wrong, good or bad. I am interested in having a system where there is public, open, peaceful discussion of the issues and, afterwards, the people, the majority of voters, decide what to do.

Switzerland is the only country whose constitution “puts its money where its mouth is”. The rest of us live in lands where “words are not facts”. The Swiss system is not perfect but shows the way.

Because of the power of the Swiss people, in two days, on November 29, 2020 they will decide the fate of a proposal to make Swiss companies legally responsible in Switzerland if they violate human rights or environmental laws in their operations abroad, just like they are in their operations in Switzerland. The proposal will make the companies also responsible if their local suppliers abroad violate human rights or environmental laws.

The results of the referendum will become the law. There is nothing that the legislators, the executive or the judiciary will be able to do to stop it. Why should the politicians in your country decide things like that, and not the people?

Perhaps this explains why 80% of the Swiss still trust their government. This is up 17% since 2007. It is the democracy with the highest level of trust, and the only one where it is has risen.

Perhaps the system that empowers the Swiss people to really control their elected representatives generates trust. Why should the Swiss not trust representatives who respect the will of the people? This is a major plus for direct democracy.

Yes, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes may show higher figures of trust but we all know such regimes can not be trusted, on anything.

So, let us stay tuned and see what the Swiss decide on November 29th. It will be also interesting to see what the Swiss government does.

Do you think you and your fellow citizens should have the right to do what Swiss voters do? If you think so, do something to make it happen in your country. For example, start to talk about it to others.

Direct democracy can quickly deal with emergencies

Many people are concerned that decision-making in a direct democracy will be too slow.

They ask: How will the country handle an emergency if the people have to hold a referendum to decide? How can a direct democracy not be at a disadvantage regarding representative democracies and, even more so, regarding authoritarian and totalitarian regimens if something unexpected happens?

Let us look at how Switzerland; humanity’s only direct democracy today, deals with emergencies.

The Swiss Constitution; which has been approved by the Swiss people, because it always has to be approved by the people, says:

Article 165, emergency legislation.

Note: I have simplified the official wording. I believe I do not distort what the original texts mean.

This article refers to the power of Swiss elected representatives in emergency situations.

It says that federal acts whose coming into force cannot wait, can be declared urgent by an absolute majority of the members of Parliament, and can apply immediately. Such emergency laws must be of limited duration.

If the people in a referendum say “no” to an emergency federal act, the act must be repealed one year after being passed by the Federal Assembly. But if the people approve the law in the referendum, then the law stays.

Remember that the Swiss people call the referendum; the Swiss government can not call referendums or stop them.

An emergency federal law has to be repealed within one year, unless the People approve it in a referendum.

As I have said in another post, the Swiss Constitution prohibits that the Swiss Supreme Court declare if a law is, or is not, constitutional. The constitutionality of laws is out of the hands of the Supreme Court. Switzerland does want to have a Constitutional Court either.

Laws promulgated in an emergency must be of limited duration. An emergency federal law that is not approved in a popular referendum can not be renewed.

As you can see, the Swiss constitution allows legislators to swiftly approve emergency laws; no need for a referendum up front, but it puts the people in ultimate control.

What in plain words, the Swiss Constitution (which can only be changed if the people approve) tells to the legislators is: “You can pass any legislation you consider necessary but the legislation will not stand beyond one year unless the people approve of it.

In this way, the Swiss achieve two goals; deal with the emergency and preserve direct democracy.

But there may be situations so urgent that there is no time for the legislators to act. In such situations, such as the one with the virus pandemic originating in China, the executive can act unilaterally, even without the approval of the legislature.

The executive can act under Article 185 of the Swiss Constitution. The article refers to internal and external emergency issues.

The Federal Council, which is the Swiss Executive, can take measures to safeguard the external and internal security, independence and neutrality of Switzerland.

The Executive may issue rules to deal with existing or imminent threats to public order or internal or external security. It must also limit the duration of such rules.

 In cases of emergency, the Executive may also mobilise the armed forces. If it mobilises over 4,000 members of the armed forces for over three weeks, the Parliament must be convened without delay. But if Parliament can not meet because of war or some other situation, the executive will do whatever it considers necessary to continue the protection of the country.

You could even say that in emergencies, the Swiss executive has more freedom to act than the executives in representative democracies.

You may know that after the Second World War, the Swiss executive did not want to give up its emergency powers. They felt that rule by executive orders was great. It seems people in power easily “grow” into non-democrats.

I do not know why the Swiss Parliament did not act. The Swiss Parliament elects-appoints the Executive. Perhaps they had the problem we see now in most representative democracies; if the government has majority in the Parliament, then the checks and balances go out the window.

Fortunately, the Swiss had direct democracy to fix this problem. Once Second World War was over, the people decided the government no longer needed emergency powers; they organized a referendum and revoked the emergency powers of the executive.

It is obvious; a direct democracy has the tools to act swiftly in emergency situations. It also has the tools to return to direct democracy if the Executive resists.

The conclusion: Direct democracy can act as swiftly, or even more swiftly, than representative democracies. Perhaps it is because the Swiss people know they have the power and the tools to force the executive to give up emergency powers.

In the current virus crisis, the Swiss government can deal with the emergency as well as any other. Whatever mistakes the Swiss government has made, or is making, in dealing with the crisis, they have nothing to do with direct democracy.

There is no doubt that if the current Swiss executive tries to hold on to its emergency powers longer than what the People consider necessary, the people will act, calmly, deliberately; no need for demonstrations or riots… and will revoke the powers of the executive.

The current quarrels in so many representative democracies about “losing our freedoms” would not arise if we, the people, felt certain we have more power than the executive and the legislative.

On Nov 29th, the Swiss will show, again, how a properly run direct democracy works.

Many Swiss people do not think it is acceptable that Swiss companies abroad commit, help to commit, look the other way or tolerate, human rights violations, even by their local suppliers.

It is not enough that this or that high profile consumer goods company or computer of mobile phone multinational, or any other company, declare “we will do this or that to protect human rights”. It is not enough because we know the stock market pressure everywhere prevails over human rights. A legal wall may be necessary, but it is legitimate to debate the human and material benefits and costs of such action.

The difference between Switzerland and other advanced countries is that in Switzerland, the people have the real hard decision-making power to act and make their will the law, regardless of what the politicians think; the rest of us in all representative democracies can not

In the case of this Swiss popular initiative to fight for human rights, what triggered it was the rejection by the Swiss parliament of the proposal made earlier by some minority parties there represented.

This is one of the great aspects of Swiss direct democracy; if a minority is convinced they have a proposal representing the concerns of the majority of the Swiss people, even if the majority parties may reject it, they can go outside parliament and have the people decide.

Any Swiss citizen or group can do that; they can take any issue to the citizens, even if no party brought it up in parliament.

Because the Swiss Executive and Parliament rejected the minority party proposal, 77 civil organizations got together and launched the “Responsible Business Initiative.”

The goal of the Initiative is to hold Swiss companies responsible, before Swiss justice for human rights and environmental violations abroad committed by them or by their local supplies.

The initiative has the support of organisations dedicated to fighting human rights abuses but also of churches, unions, and even some business.

One could say the initiative has been proposed by “leftist” groups, although Swiss churches are non-political. That is not the point, the point is that ordinary Swiss citizens, of the “left”, “right” or “center”, even if they do not belong to any organization can put their concerns before the voters.

But Switzerland would not be Switzerland if it did not do things in an orderly manner. In Switzerland people just don’t take to the streets, demonstrate or riot about something and, when the issue is “hot”, put it to a referendum, or scare the politicians into rash action.

This is how the Swiss do it, and did, in this case; the proponents gathered the required 100 000 signatures. They had 18 months to do it. The rules require a relatively low number of signatures (Switzerland has 8.5 million people), and 18 months is ample time to gather them.

The proponents of the Responsible Business Initiative then presented the initiative to the Swiss government.

The Executive and both chambers of the Swiss parliament examined it. They could not kill the initiative, the law does not allow for that, but they could make a counterproposal to its proponents, which they did.

The proponents of the initiative felt the counter-proposal presented by the government did not address some of their key concerns.

The next step is for the proposal will go to a national referendum.

They also organise the referendum in a fair, orderly manner; all Swiss potential voters receive an information package containing the proposal, the counter-proposal, and the arguments of both sides. The political parties also present their arguments for or against.

There is also ample debate in the media, even among families and friends. Business groups, unions, and others present their arguments in articles, debates, etc.

This elaborate process allows the voters to be reasonably well informed when they go to vote.

That moment has now arrived; in a few days, on November 29, 2020, the voters will decide.

In representative democracies, the people never decide these issues; the politicians decide and that is no longer enough.

Direct democracy is better for many reasons. One of them is that in representative democracies the lobbies, the hiper-rich, and the “influencers” exert a lot of direct and indirect pressure on politicians. In the Swiss system, it does not really matter much if you pressure the politicians in private meetings because it is the people who make the final decision.

Should you not be able to do what the Swiss people do?

The virus crisis; a great opportunity!

At the beginning of WW II, the Swiss parliament granted the executive the right to rule under Swiss Emergency Law to deal with the extraordinary situation.

The Swiss executive is also using the powers the Swiss Constitution grants it to face the current virus pandemic.

In WW II, the Swiss allowed the executive to by-pass the legislature and also the referendums by the people.

Everybody thought that once WW II was over, Switzerland would return to direct democracy; in reality, it was not very easy.

Once WW II was over the Swiss executive was in no hurry to return power to the parliament, nor to the people.

Only two ministers in the emergency government wanted to return to direct democracy. Most other politicians did not mind too much keeping the people and parliament away from decision-making.

The Swiss people eventually became fed up and used the tools of direct democracy to return to it.

They started a people’s initiative: “Return to direct democracy”. In 1949, the Swiss people voted.

These are the results:

50.7% of the people voted for the return to direct democracy. 49.3% voted against. It seems shocking that the return to direct democracy won by such a narrow margin. For whatever reason, almost half the voters seemed to support direct rule by the executive.

Mind you, the emergency powers of the Swiss executive did not turn it into a dictatorship; the people kept their power to organise the initiative that eventually ended the emergency power of the executive.

But even if the citizens who gathered the signatures and triggered the referendum had lost, they could organise another initiative to try again. This they would do by gathering the required number of signatures if they felt the public mood had changed or they believed they could put together stronger arguments.

This is one of the most important aspects of direct democracy; people always have the power to change their minds and change reality.

They also have the power to change the constitution, the politicians do not and the Supreme Court does not either. Swiss democracy is fluid; it flows with the people in a calm, rational way.

Do not be surprised then that the politicians in your representative democracy, whatever it is, do not want to lose the power that representative democracy gives them in emergencies and, particularly, in normal circumstances.

Most politicians in representative democracies, even if they are in the opposition, do not want direct democracy. They know that even in the opposition; they have more power than the people who elected them. They also like the system; if they win the next election, they will have powers not unlike the powers the Swiss executive has during the emergency.

I hope that when the virus crisis is over, the Swiss executive will not make the mistake it made after WW II.

As for your representative democracy, perhaps you can do what the Swiss did after a pandemic in the 1800s.

This is what they did:

In 1867 the citizens of Zurich decided the politicians of their, then representative democracy, did not manage the cholera pandemic well. The people decided to take matters in their own hands and, peacefully but forcefully, pushed to have the right to put any issue to a popular referendum.

From Zurich, direct people power spread to the rest of Switzerland. Unfortunately, the spread of direct democracy stopped at the Swiss border.

It is not hard to imagine that if Germany had direct democracy, Hitler would never had risen because with direct democracy, way before Hitler, the Swiss people would have been in control of their destiny, instead of in the hands of emperors, weak leaders or crazy leaders.

Let us use the virus crisis; push for direct democracy!

Direct democracy and capital punishment

This is how humanity’s only direct democracy dealt with the issue of capital punishment.

Switzerland has direct democracy since 1848. They abolished capital punishment in 1938.

The last execution of a woman, Genevieve Guenat took place in the little Swiss-French town of Delemont, near Berne, on September 7, 1874. The last man executed was Niklaus Emmenegger, in Lucerne, on July 6, 1867.

It is interesting that women could be executed but could not vote, in Switzerland and in representative democracies too. In non-democracies, where women and men can not vote, or where voting is a sham, both men and women can be executed.

It is also interesting how so many countries consider people are not intelligent and responsible enough to vote but they are responsible enough to be executed, and not just for killing another person, sometimes, just having sex with a man or woman who is not your husband or wife can get you killed, it is absurd.

But those are other issues. Let us go back to the death penalty and direct democracy.

In the early 1900s Swiss politicians reached the conclusion the death penalty was not the rational thing to do. On December 21,  1937, the Federal Assembly of Switzerland, which includes both houses of parliament, passed a law to abolish capital punishment.

But when Parliament “passes a law” in Switzerland, it is not like in representative democracies, in Switzerland’s direct democracy, the people make the final decision, not the elected representatives.

On July 3, 1939, the Swiss people in a national referendum approved the law. 54% of those who voted said “yes”. The proposed law became the law of the land. 57% of eligible voters took part. If the majority had said “no”, capital punishment would still be the law of the land.

No civilians were executed in Switzerland since 1939, even during the WW II period.

In April 1999, in another referendum, the Swiss people approved a new constitution which included banning capital punishment for the military too.

If the people had voted “no”, parliament could have drafted another law that could be supported by the majority of citizens. Ordinary Swiss citizens could also have developed a proposal; if they collected 100 000 signatures in 18 months or less, their proposal would be put to a national referendum.

As a reference, it is interesting to note how direct democracy in Switzerland, far from being the “tyranny of the majority” or “mob rule” as some say, was ahead of so many representative democracies in the abolition of capital punishment.

Switzerland:  Abolished it in 1938 for civilians, in1999 for the military too.

Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976 for civilians, in 1998 for the military.

Austria: 1968

Belgium: 1996

Denmark: 1978

France: 1981

Germany: 1949

Greece: 2001

Ireland: 1990

Italy: 1994

Netherlands: 1982

Norway: 1979

Poland: 1998

Portugal: 1976

Spain: 1978 for civilians and in 1995 for the military.

United Kingdom: 1998

The Vatican: 2001! I was shocked, but perhaps I should not have been.

Now, the big question is; why the people in representative democracies did not have a say on the ending of capital punishment? Why couldn’t the people of all those other countries have the right to put capital punishment to a national referendum, or even to a provincial or state referendum?

How many lives would have been saved in the UK, in France, in Canada, in the US, and other countries if the people had the power to put capital punishment to a national vote?

I  believe capital punishment is justified, and the moral thing to do in some cases, but if the people decide by referendum to abolish it, it is much harder to argue against its abolition when the majority of my fellow citizens vote to abolish it than if the politicians decide to do so.

It makes no sense a system where society has to wait until politicians form a state of opinion among themselves to abolish capital punishment, or any other law, or make any new law, or even change the constitution, yet the whole country who elects and pays the politicians has no way of doing that.

It is time for direct democracy in all stable representative democracies. In democracies that are not stable, corrupt, etc., or in countries that are not even representative democracies, they will probably have to wait, unless a revolution overthrows the current tyrants.

 

If you live in a democracy, why you and your fellow citizens can not decide important issues that affect your lives?

Democracy is “government by the people”. This can only mean one thing; that the people govern, that the people decide. It does not mean “government by those elected by the people”.

Amazingly, in no current representative democracy do the citizens have the power to decide. The only decision they can make is to vote to elect representatives, who are the ones with the genuine power to decide. The people have no decision-making in-between elections; it is ridiculous.

Why shouldn’t the people of your country decide such as the following?

To what extent, people from other countries should be allowed to move to your country?

Why shouldn’t you and your fellow citizens decide if the country should close its borders, have no borders, who to let it in or keep out? Why shouldn’t you? Why should the politicians decide that?

All you can do if you want open borders or closed borders is write letters, go to the media, demonstrate, etc., but you do not have the legal power to stop the politicians.

Why shouldn’t you also have a say on what military equipment your country needs?

You do not have to be a military or strategy expert to vote on that. The politicians who make those decisions are not military or strategy experts either. They are ordinary people; they listen to the opinions of experts and then decide if the country needs 300 new fighter jets, 20 submarines, or more rockets. The average citizen can also listen to those experts and make an informed decision.

In fact, the decision by the people is a sounder decision. This is why; a percentage of the voters are more ignorant than the politicians on military issues, because of that many of them will abstain from voting. This is because most reasonable people and most voters are reasonable, do not feel comfortable deciding on issues they do not understand.

But in the population, there are many experts who are not in important organizations, or are retired experts. Such people can provide valuable input to other voters. They can do it even better than government-paid or lobby-paid experts because they are free of the bias of vested interests.

Why shouldn’t you and your fellow citizens not decide if instead of 300 fighter jets, only 150 should be bought; with the rest of the money allocated to weapons research, medical research, the health system, the educational system, or something else?

Why should you not decide if tax deductions for having children and for child care should be increased or decreased? Why do the politicians decide that for you?

Citizens can completely understand it they want to increase other taxes to compensate for that, or if other services should be reduced?; for example, fewer fighter jets.

Or, why should you not have a direct say on environmental matters?

For example, if an animal species needs protection, needs more protection or needs no protection at all? Or if blister packages should be banned?

Environmental experts, economists, and others can explain to the people the problem, just like they explain it to the politicians. The people are just as capable of assimilating information. Again, the majority of the people have no vested interest in protecting a species or removing its protection; because of that, they can make fair decisions.

Direct decision-making by the people has other advantages.

For example, it is much easier to cast an informed vote on a concrete issue than to figure out if the program of a party on a zillion issues is the correct one, as well as figuring out the credibility and character of political candidates.

Another advantage of direct decision-making by voters is that voting on issues dilutes, even removes, the “right”, “left” politics of many issues.

This is so because most citizens are not “followers of a party”. In representative democracies, the people have to choose what party to vote for. When they do this, they “vote” for the party platform. It is irrational to expect most voters to analyze a party platform. Besides, most voters do not agree with the party they vote for on all issues.

The current system, representative democracy, does not allow voters to vote on specific issues. If people can vote on issues, voting diversity is much more pronounced; the same voter may vote “right” on one issue; for example, for more fighter jets, and vote “left” on another issue, such as increasing paternity leave, or minimum wages, or for universal, taxpayer-funded, universal health care.

Do you know who can directly decide on all those issues, and also on issues they propose? The Swiss, that is who.

They also vote on many more issues at the local and canton-state-region-province level.

Why can’t you do the same? Because your politicians like to hold on to the almost oligarchic power they have from election to election. They do not want you to know there is another way. The elites do not want that either; they prefer to influence the politicians; they do not want you involved in decision-making. They want you to “vote and forget”.

The French king did not want to relinquish power either.

What do Swiss voters did that you have not done? They insisted and did not give up; “we pay, we decide”. They insisted, like the French Revolutionaries, the American Revolutionaries, and others insisted to have the right to elect their rulers.

The next step is here; we must elect the representatives, and we must also be the final decision-makers.

Could the pandemic be a blessing in disguise?

A pandemic brought direct democracy to Switzerland, which at the time was a representative democracy. The current pandemic could bring direct democracy to other representative democracies.

Some people are pushing for proportional representation, as an alternative to first-past-the-post, as an important improvement. Do not be fooled; proportional representation gives some people more voice but still zero power. Proportional representation is like giving a new toy to a kid with no shoes, it does not solve the real problem.

The key to more democracy is direct democracy, not proportional representation. Put your efforts into a direct democracy.

A representative democracy with proportional representation, or first-past-the-post, still leaves the politicians with more power than the people, it does not address the root problem; voters with little power.

In Switzerland they have a direct democracy with a proportional representation, direct democracy is much more important than representation. In a direct democracy, the people are the final decision-makers.

Proportional representation is interesting because allows more people to be heard in Parliament.

Proportional representation increases the ability of voters to be heard, but it does not increase the power or control of voters over the politicians. In proportional representation, we can say more voters have a voice in parliament, but do not have more power where it really counts; when it comes to making decisions.

Direct democracy is the real advance because, in it, voters have more power than the politicians. In direct democracy, the people are the final decision-makers.

Direct democracy is having many interesting effects on Swiss political life.

For example, in Switzerland, politicians have learned they can only pass laws the voters support, or that the voters will not oppose.

In view of that, the politicians realize it makes no sense to pass unpopular laws because the people will veto them.

To ensure the support of the majority of voters, for laws and other initiatives, the major Swiss parties, representing 70 to 80% of the voters, work together to find common ground. They negotiate until they reach the conclusion that most of the people will support the law or other decisions.

What this means is that in Switzerland there is no “loyal opposition”, they do not need it. They avoid the “us” vs. “them” fights we see in representative democracies.

The coalition government, the absence of the opposition, also eliminates among the Swiss the polarizations we see today in countries like the US or the UK, where half the population does not just disagree with the other half, they despise each other. It is totally irrational.

With less polarizations in the political parties, there is also less polarizations among the public, the media, etc.

Polarizations drive political parties and their voters towards bitter opposition and mutual disqualifications.  Democracy can not work like that, it will die. Therefore, it is urgent to bring direct democracy.

Does it not surprise you that in Switzerland, the 5 major parties govern in coalition decade after decade?

Another interesting aspect of Swiss democracy in Switzerland is that in the coalition, the “right”, the “centre” and the left govern together.

For example, right now, in the Swiss executive the following parties are represented; the Swiss People’s Party (right wing party), the Social Democrats (the socialists), the Liberals and the Christian Democrats. As I said, they represent 70-80% of the voters; pretty representative, I think.

Imagine in the United States the Republicans and the Democrats governing together! or the Conservatives and Labour in the UK!

With direct democracy, in the US they would not have the vicious fights we see between the Republican Executive and the Democrat House, or vice versa; no bitter fights to appoint Supreme Court Judges either.

Direct democracy would tone down crazy polarizations. Such situations are not in the people; in the American people or any other.

Polarization happens because elections in representative democracies bring almost oligarch-like power to those who win. Because of that, they fight like hell to discredit, dehumanize even, the other party and its supporters.

It is an interesting coincidence that modern direct democracy came to Switzerland because of a pandemic, like the one we have now all over.

If one effect of the current pandemic is that the American People, and the people of other representative democracies, successfully push for direct democracy, it would a surprising benefit of the pandemic; we could consider its victims as fallen soldiers fighting for democracy.

Americans, British, French, Germans, Canadians, etc., should push for direct democracy right now.