It is urgent because the deterioration of representative democracy may turn the people to non-democratic regimes of the right of the left. This has happened many times before.
In a representative democracy, it can happen that most voters may be against the government; if an election were to take place, the party in power would lose. But it does not matter, even if 90% of the voters are against what the government wants to do, they have no formal mechanisms and procedures to stop it.
This means that in a representative democracy a government can carry on without the support of most voters, even against their will; how can that be a democracy?
Democracy is “government by the people,” or, as President Lincoln and others put it: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
In a democracy, the government must not be able to make even one decision against the will of the majority.
Representative democracies must put in place mechanisms to put the will of the people above the will of the politicians.
The Swiss used to have representative democracy too, they changed that forever, the trigger was also a pandemic…
They have now four mechanisms to empower voters to prevail over the politicians.
First, they have the popular initiative. It allows the people to change the constitution. The people can do it without the support of politicians, even against their will.
To launch a national referendum on an initiative, its proponents have to collect 100 000 signatures in less than 18 months. 100 000 signatures are about 1% of the population of Switzerland. This is very important; you may know that in some countries with forms of direct democracy, they require a much higher percentage of signatures; this makes signature collection very difficult and has the effect of killing the process before it starts.
Once the proponents of the referendum collected the signatures, the national referendum takes place; the people decide. The executive, the legislative, have to accept the decision and make it stick. The only challenge allowed is another referendum on the same issue.
Before the referendum takes place, politicians can make a counter proposal to the people launching the initiative. These people may reject or accept the counter proposal. If they accept it, they withdraw the initiative, and no vote takes place.
Another tool Swiss voters have is the optional referendum. With this tool, the Swiss people can stop any law passed by the legislature.
In most cases, the people do not object to the laws passed. But this happens because of the power voters have to stop any law. This power keeps Swiss politicians very aware they have to pass only laws acceptable to the voters.
To launch the optional referendum, its proponents must collect 50 000 signatures within 100 days of the publication of the law.
The Swiss have a third tool to control politicians; it is the mandatory referendum.
Here, the people do not have to collect signatures; the mandatory referendum kicks in when the politicians want to change the constitution. There must a popular referendum on any proposal the politicians make to change the constitution.
But they even have fourth tool; the Swiss people have to approve any international treaty, the executive can not do it on its own.
As you see, the Swiss have turned the tables on politicians; what the Swiss did is radically reform representative democracy by introducing powerful instruments of direct democracy. They kept the elected representatives but they inverted the pyramid of power; at the top, instead of the politicians, the people sit.
If you want you and your fellow voters to have a functioning democracy from election to election, you will have to push until your politicians agree to put in place measures similar to Switzerland’s, or better.
If you do not do that you are contributing to the deterioration of democracy in your country. Populism is just the first symptom democracy is not really working.