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!

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