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!

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