Direct democracy is better for the majority… and for minorities, too!

Let us look at minorities in the only time-tested direct democracy the World has now; Switzerland.

Switzerland is made up of four founding cultures who speak German, French, Italian and Romansch. German-speakers make up 63% of the population, French-speakers 23%, Italian-Speakers 8% and Romansh-speakers 0.5%.

Although the Romansh language is spoken by a tiny minority, it is one of the four official national languages. No other democracy does that; France, Spain, the UK, Sweden, Canada, the United States, etc., with much larger minorities, do not do that, and suffer never ending tensions because of it.

Have you ever heard that Breton or Corsican are official national language of France, or Gaelic in the UK, or Galician, Basque or Catalan as official languages of Spain, or any aboriginal language of Canada, the US or Mexico? You haven’t because they are not.

But it gets even more interesting; of the 8.5 million Swiss, only about 60 000 people speak Romansh and they no not make up the majority in any of the Swiss cantons, (a canton is equivalent to an American state, a German lander, a Mexican state, a Canadian province or a Spanish autonomous region).

Why has the German-speaking majority, and also the other major French-speaking and Italian-speaking minorities, recognize in such clear and official manner the language spoken by such a few people?

It can not be because of their votes count for much at election time in the national elections. They do it because they know it is good for themselves too because it prevents alienation and frustration when people are not respected and recognized.

But there is more to Swiss direct democracy; in Switzerland, if you get 50 000 signatures, or 100 000 in other cases, any issue has to be put to a national referendum.

There is also a very important detail; in Switzerland, the results of popular referendums are mandatory; the parliament and the executive have to respect and implement them. Also very important; the Swiss Supreme court can not overturn the results of popular referendums because they may be “contrary to the constitution”. In a direct democracy “the people are sovereign”, for real.

In Switzerland, if 50 000 or 100 000 people, between 0.5 and 1% of the population, sign up to a proposal anyone can make; “this issue should go to national referendum”, it goes.

But the issue does not even have to affect the 50 000 or 100 000 people, a much smaller group of people can force a national referendum on an issue they consider important, as long as they get the signatures. This gives significant power to the smallest groups.

Small and large groups, tiny and large political parties, can force national on other issues, and they do; making Swiss companies responsible for human rights and environmental violations in their foreign facilities, gay marriage, immigration, taxes, commercial treaties with other countries, budgets, new weapons for the armed forces, gun laws, and on and on.

Direct democracy provides a mechanism for social minorities, minority political parties and other groups, to have the whole nation decide.

Popular referendums in Switzerland have even been used to create new cantons. This has happened when a significant portion of the population of a canton are convinced they need a canton of their own.

The political diversity of Switzerland is amazing also; there are 15 political parties with representation in the national parliament and, amazingly, the Swiss parliamentarians and the executive work cooperatively; does that happen in your country?

There are another 10 parties with no representation in the parliament but, remember, they can organize referendums; they have power beyond their numbers. The 50 000-100 000 signature system allows citizens to go the people for a decision, over the heads of the executive and parliament.

So, if you belong to any minority, or to the majority, but want to avoid having frustrated minorities and peaceful getting along, no other system comes close to direct democracy. Ignore what some academics, opinion makers and politicians in your representative democracy may tell you.

Besides, direct democracy develops voters into much more responsible voters; it happens because voters now decide, they don’t just vote for someone; they know they are responsible for the fate of the nation.

 

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