I just read an article published by DW.com on May 18th, 2014.
I quote; “Estimates place more than half of all worldwide referendums as taking place in Switzerland. The small country of eight million residents is seen by many as an ideal model of democracy. However, recent years have shown that such referendums can lead to controversial political decisions. In 2009, a proposal to ban minarets on mosques received the majority of the referendum vote. And at the start of 2014, Europe was shocked at the referendum-based decision to restrict the number of EU immigrants to Switzerland”.
DW seems to suggest Swiss-style direct democracy is not a good system because it produces “controversial decisions”.
Do not politicians in representative democracies, like Germany, produce controversial decisions too? Don’t they produce them sometimes, even against the will of their own people? What sort of balderdash are the DW’s editors talking about?
How about Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open Germany’s borders to refugees? That decision made millions of Germans angry, and millions of other Germans happy; quite controversial. We do not know if more Germans supported her decision or were against it. We will never know because they did not vote.
It is reasonable to question representative democracy because of the power it gives governments to decide without consulting the people; when they do that, they are not acting democratically. Whatever happened to “democracy: government by the people”?
Angel Merkel’s decision was controversial in Germany because it was not a democratic decision, because the people did not vote. She did it because she felt “it was the right thing to do”, and because representative democracy gives her that power.
It is very different to create controversy the way Angela Merkel did, ignoring the will of the people, from the democratic controversy in Switzerland, when the people debate an issue and democratically decide.
After a referendum in Switzerland, there hardly is any controversy; the losers accept they lost after a fair hearing. They learned they have to improve their arguments, or wait until the public mood changes; there are no politicians to get mad at, like in Germany.
In Switzerland, after much debate and discussion, the voters made a rational, deliberate decision on minarets and immigration.
The Swiss process allowed those who supported the building of minarets and not limiting immigration plenty of time to present their point to the public. The process did the same for the people who oppose building the minarets and want to reduce immigration. One argument persuaded more voters, that is all; that is what democracy is about.
The four positions are reasonable; to defend the building of minarets, to defend banning minarets, to reduce immigration or to maintain it at current levels. The right thing to do is for the majority to decide, it is their country.
The referendum results were clear; 57.51% of the voters said “nein” to the building of minarets, 42.49% said “ja”. The proposal also won the referendum in 22 of the 26 Swiss Cantons (states).
The results of the referendum to limit European immigration were clear but closer; 50.33% voted in favour of limiting immigration and 49.67% voted against. The proponents of this referendum also won in most cantons; 14.5 cantons voted “yes”, 11.5 cantons voted “no.”
To make it even more democratic than in Germany, in Switzerland, it is the people who call the referendum, not the government. In Germany, only the Government can call a referendum; the German people do not have the right to do that, but they should. Also, like in Switzerland, the results of the referendum should be binding for the German government.
It is important to note the Swiss did not vote to ban Islam, ban Moslems or ban Mosques; what they did is ban minarets. They did not ban European immigration either; they just wanted to limit it.
The Swiss do not have a recent history of doing crazy things like banning a religion or their practicioners, but long time ago they did have “religious” wars. They like immigrants too; 25% of the population in Switzerland are immigrants.
Perhaps Swiss voters made a bad decision on minarets and on immigration; there is no way of demonstrating that.
Unfortunately, the track record of representative democracy, certainly in Germany, is far worse than Swiss direct democracy; it was in a representative democracy that people voted for Hitler.
In representative democracies, not just in Germany, the politicians have too much power; if the executive and parliament agree, they can do anything they want. In a direct democracy they can not because the people have more power than the politicians, that is what it is all about; power.
I believe if Germany had a direct democracy, she would not have started WW I and WW II. If it had direct democracy, they would have not ended up in the arms of Adolf Hitler either.
Given Germany’s history with representative democracy, it would be more reasonable for DW to support direct democracy than to criticize it.
Switzerland proves that direct democracy, “government by the people”, exercised through an orderly, rational process, produces sounder decisions than representative democracy.
In Switzerland’s direct democracy process, those supporting the building of minarets can also collect the 100 000 required signatures to hold another referendum on the same issue, and perhaps win. It is a better system, although not perfect.
Let us bring Swiss-style direct democracy to Germany and to other representative democracies.