Because of Direct Democracy, Switzerland is the the most democratic country in the World, not Norway

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranks Norway as the most democratic country in the World; it is wrong. Below I show why that is so.

The EIU uses the responses the people surveyed in each country give about their country.

That is a serious flaw. The people who answer may be quite ignorant of the quality of democracy in other countries that are more democratic than their own country.

I suspect that is what happens in the case of Norway; the Norwegians may give the most positive answers about the state of democracy in their country  because they do not know about Swiss democracy much.

What the Economist has done is like polling people on food; they can tell you they like best their food, but does does not mean theirs is the best food; to establish that you need to dig deeper, you need some facts.

Based of facts, objectively, Switzerland is, by far, the most democratic society in the World. Norway might be the most democratic among other representative democracies, but are clearly below Switzerland, never mind the EIU’s ranking of the Swiss in 12th place.

The EIU uses the answers to 60 questions to do the ranking. It is clear that, regardless of what they believe, the Norwegians do not have the best democracy. Here I reproduce the questions

After each question, I make comments that I hope place what the EIU does, and Norwegians say, in a more realistic perspective.

Some of my comments are opinions based on common knowledge, others are facts directly.

At the end, beyond question 60, I also add questions that I believe the EIU should include to make its rankings more credible, more factually-based.

I Electoral process and pluralism

  1. Are elections for the national legislature and head of government free?

I rank Switzerland and Norway at about the same level.

  1. Are elections for the national legislature and head of government fair?

About the same in both countries.

  1. Are municipal elections both free and fair?

About the same in both countries.

  1. Is there universal suffrage for all adults?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Can citizens cast their vote free of significant threats to their security from state or non-state bodies?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Do laws provide for broadly equal campaigning opportunities?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Is the process of financing political parties transparent and generally accepted?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Following elections, are the constitutional mechanisms for the orderly transfer of power from one government to another clear, established and accepted?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Are citizens free to form political parties that are independent of the government?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

10. Do opposition parties have a realistic prospect of achieving government?

Switzerland is ahead here because the four parties representing between 70-80% of voters govern in coalition. In Norway, two parties, with 42% of the vote govern in coalition. It is easy to see where more parties participate in government, as well as where most voters have representation in government.

  1. Is potential access to public office open to all citizens?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Are citizens free to form political and civic organisations, free of state interference and surveillance?

Similar in Norway and Switzerland.

II Functioning of government.

13. Do freely elected representatives determine government policy?

On this Switzerland lands a crushing punch because Swiss voters, directly, also decide policies and issues, and that is far more democratic. Swiss citizens truly participate in decision-making, Norwegian voters are spectators. The Swiss vote and decide issues, the Norwegians vote but can decide nothing.

Norwegian politicians are also more vulnerable to lobbies because they have more power than Swiss politicians. This means the lobbies can get more out of Norwegian politicians and the people can not stop the decisions of politicians, the Swiss can, and do.

14. Is the legislature the supreme political body, with a clear supremacy over other branches of government?

Superficially similar in Norway and Switzerland, but the Swiss land another crushing punch here; the supreme political body in Switzerland is the Swiss people, not the government, not parliament, not the Swiss Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in Switzerland is expressly barred by the Swiss Constitution to judge the constitutionality of laws; the Swiss people decide that.

15. Is there an effective system of checks and balances on the exercise of government authority?

Again, the Swiss deliver a knockout; the Swiss people are the supreme “checkers and balancers”. In Norway, the executive, legislative and judiciary may check and balance each other, but the Norwegian people have no way of checking and balancing any of the three branches, except voting for another party at the next election. The Swiss people can, and do, check and balance government at election time and, more importantly, between elections.

16. Government is free of undue influence by the military or the security services.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

17. Foreign powers do not determine important government functions or policies.

Norway belongs to NATO, Switzerland is neutral. It is obvious Norway can be pressured by other members of NATO. For example, perhaps Norway sent forces to Afghanistan because of NATO ties.

18.Special economic, religious or other powerful domestic groups do not exercise significant political power, parallel to democratic institutions?

Clearly Switzerland is ahead here because the direct power of the people to decide issues limits the power of elected politicians, and of the lobbies, who influence them. That is not the case in Norway.

19. Are sufficient mechanisms and institutions in place for assuring government accountability to the electorate in between elections?

Because of direct democracy, the Swiss government is far more accountable and far more controlled by the Swiss people than the Norwegian government is by the Norwegian people.

20. Does the government’s authority extend over the full territory of the country?

Wrong question; in Switzerland the cantons have far more autonomy that any region in Norway. Norway is a unitary state where the central government has a lot more power than the Swiss federal government. This means that the Swiss of different areas have more freedom to decide than the Norwegians.

  1. Is the functioning of government open and transparent, with sufficient public access to information?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. How pervasive is corruption?

Probably similarly low in Norway and Switzerland. But even if Norway is less corrupt, it does not make Norway more democratic.

  1. Is the civil service willing and capable of implementing government policy?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Popular perceptions of the extent to which they have free choice and control over their lives.

Clearly Switzerland is far ahead here because in the Swiss Cantons, the Municipalities and the Federal Government, Swiss citizens have far more autonomy than the Norwegians to decide by themselves; they have far more control over their lives than the Norwegians.

  1. Public confidence in government.

High in both countries, but Switzerland is the country where citizens have the highest confidence in government. The Norwegians trust their government, but the Swiss trust theirs even more.

  1. Public confidence in political parties.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. But if this correlates with 25, one would expect the Swiss to be ahead here too.

III Political participation

  1. Voter participation/turnout for national elections.

Voter turnout in national elections is higher in Norway BUT, the Swiss vote four times each year on issues of their choosing, including throwing away laws and decisions the elected representatives propose.

Over the span of one year 80% of Swiss voters go and vote, that is about the same, or perhaps a bit higher than the percentage of Norwegians that vote in national elections, but only every four years! 80% of the Swiss, every year, vote to decide issues, besides voting every year to elect politicians.

But there is more; Norwegians only have a chance every four years, but only to elect, not to decide. It is to be expected that Norwegians will vote in much higher numbers than Switzerland in the national elections; national elections in Norway are far more important; it is their only chance to have influence over the national policies.

Compare that to Switzerland where national elections are of secondary importance because the Swiss people have the power to prevail over the politicians at any time between elections.

The Swiss have another crucial advantage; Swiss voters decide what issues they want to decide, the Norwegians can not decide issues, all they can do is elect the politicians who will decide the issues. It is obvious what is more democratic.

  1. Do ethnic, religious and other minorities have a reasonable degree of autonomy and voice in the political process?

Switzerland here has another huge advantage; the French, Italian and Romansh minorities of Switzerland have far more autonomy than the Sami minority in Norway.

The so-called “Sami parliament” is under the Norwegian Ministry of Justice; what kind of parliament is under a minister?. Any of the minority cantons of Switzerland would consider that totally unacceptable. The Swiss cantons are fully autonomous, except in a few areas in which the cantons decide it is best if the federal government has the authority.

The Sami “parliament” is a formality, or worse compared to the parliaments of the Swiss cantons. I can not understand why the Sami accept that.

  1. Women in parliament.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. Norway is ahead ,not by much. however, democracy is not about how many women or minorities are in parliament; democracy is about government by the people.

Swiss women, because of their ability to decide by popular referendum, are far ahead of Norwegian women, and of Norwegian men too.

  1. Extent of political participation. Membership of political parties and political non-governmental organisations.

I do not know about that, but in the Swiss federal parliament 14 political parties hold seats, in Norway’s 7.

Norway: has 20 other parties with no representation. Switzerland: 18 other parties are not in the national parliament.

But there is a crucial difference here also in favour of the small Swiss parties outside and inside parliament; any of them can launch a referendum if they collect 50 000, or 100 000 signatures, depending on the issue.

This means that in Switzerland small parties, and even a small group of citizens, can put to a binding referendum, for the people to decide any issue with a minimum of support; small Norwegian parties and private citizens can only dream of the power the Swiss have.

  1. Citizens’ engagement with politics.

You can not have more engagement than the people directly deciding issues; there is no contest here, Switzerland is light years ahead of Norway.

  1. The preparedness of population to take part in lawful demonstrations.

This has nothing to do with democracy. In fact, if democracy works really as it should, perhaps there should be not much need for demonstrations. There is room for improvement in Switzerland too, but the Swiss may demonstrate more as a way to promote issues with an eye on referendums, not to pressure government and parliament to do this or that; they do not have to because the people have the power to decide.

The aggressive, even violent, demonstrations we see in the US, the UK, France, etc., are more a sign that democracy is not working than of civic engagement. The level of civic engagement of the Swiss is extremely high, but shows differently; starting with their armed forces which are really based on ordinary citizens serving.

  1. Adult literacy.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland, but irrelevant to democracy. Cuba has a higher literacy rate than Israel… Israel’s democracy is far below Switzerland’s, but Cuba is a totalitarian state, you can not be less democratic than that.

  1. Extent to which adult population shows an interest in and follows politics in the news.

This is a silly question. Even in countries with little freedom, there is lots of interest in the news.

  1. The authorities make a serious effort to promote political participation.

Irrelevant too; if a democracy is a real democracy, the authorities should play no role in that because the people have the right to participate as much as they want, and they participate as much as they feel is necessary. The authorities should stay away from that because they have a vested interest.

If governments are concerned about low participation what they have to do is bring direct democracy, but they do not want to; nor the executive, not the legislative and not the Supreme Court or Constitutional Court.

They do not want to because all of them will then have less power than the people; they are not interested in that at all because they enjoy the power and many of them believe they are wiser than the peophe; such is the degree of mental confusion representative democracy generates in the elites.

IV Democratic political culture

  1. Is there a sufficient degree of societal consensus and cohesion to underpin a stable, functioning democracy?

No country has a higher degree of consensus than Switzerland; government by consensus is the norm in Switzerland. In Switzerland, there is less political polarisation than in any other free country.

No country is more politically stable than Switzerland as well. That is why so many wealthy people from representative democracies keep important portions of their money in Switzerland; they know there is no more secure place, and it becaure of its political stability.

  1. Perceptions of leadership; proportion of the population that desires a strong leader who bypasses parliament and elections.

In Switzerland, the leaders are the “weakest” anywhere; there is no fixed president; the job rotates among seven equals. Direct democracy makes obsolete the concept of strong leadership, of “leaders with vision”, and assorted marketing baloney, because the Swiss people are responsible for the decisions the country makes, they don’t need leaders with vision; the voters have the vision; they have no choice in this regard.

The Swiss are far ahead of the Norwegians.

  1. Perceptions of military rule; proportion of the population that would prefer military rule.

Probably very low and similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Perceptions of rule by experts or technocratic government; proportion of the population that would prefer rule by experts or technocrats.

I do not know, but I suspect the Swiss voters, as experienced decision-makers themselves, they listen to the experts but decide for themselves, they do not need the experts to decide. The Norwegians are not used to decide issues directly and it is likely more Norwegians may want experts, but I suspect, Norwegians, who also have shown lots of political common sense (intelligence), are nor crazy about governments of “experts” either.

  1. Perception of democracy and public order; proportion of the population that believes that democracies are not good at maintaining public order.

Probably similar, and low, in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Perception of democracy and the economic system; proportion of the population that believes that democracy benefits economic performance.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland, and both positive.

  1. Degree of popular support for democracy.

Stronger in Switzerland because direct democracy is real democracy, a more democratic voter-centered form of democracy than the Norwegian’s representative democracy which, as far the making of laws, deciding issues, changing the constitution, Norwaysis not a democracy because the people do not and can not vote to decide.

  1. There is a strong tradition of the separation of church and state.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. But likely deeper in Switzerland because there is no King; European Kings always have roots in Christianity, and Northern Kings in Protestantism.

I do not know about Norway but kings in other democracies often have to profess a particular religion.

V Civil liberties

  1. Is there a free electronic media?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Is there a free print media?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Is there freedom of expression and protest (bar only generally accepted restrictions such as banning advocacy of violence)?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

I already said protests in representative democracies are a sign democracy is not working very well, and people take to the streets, often not peacefully.

  1. Is media coverage robust? Is there open and free discussion of public issues, with a reason- able diversity of opinions?

Probably comparable in Norway and Switzerland; Switzerland is likely to have and edge, because binding referendums promote open and deep discussion of issues, far more than electoral campaigns.

  1. Are there political restrictions on access to the Internet?

Probably none in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Are citizens free to form professional organisations and trade unions?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Do institutions provide citizens with the opportunity to successfully petition government to redress grievances?

Here, the Swiss are far ahead too; they do not need to petition the government, they force the government to hold referendums on issues, and the results of the referendums the government must implement.

If citizens have to “petition” government it can not be a democracy. It is government who should petition citizens. In many ways, the Swiss government “petitions” voters to approve this or that law or policy.

  1. The use of torture by the state.

Probably similar, and very low, in Norway and Switzerland.

Where does this question come from? I do not know of any stable reprerentative democracy in Europe or anywhere else who uses torture.

That the US used torture on some murderous fanatics to know if others were about to murder, is clearly exceptional and justified in the eyes of many responsible citizens, but others disagree.

  1. The degree to which the judiciary is independent of government influence.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. But Switzerland has an edge here too because the judiciary can not prevail over the will of the people on political issues or the constitution. The Swiss Supreme Court has far less power than the Norwegian Supreme Court, because the people are the final decision makers, not the Supreme Court.

  1. The degree of religious tolerance and freedom of religious expression.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. The degree to which citizens are treated equally under the law.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Do citizens enjoy basic security?

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Extent to which private property rights protected and private business is free from undue government influence.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland bud, again, Switzerland is likely to have an edge here.

  1. Extent to which citizens enjoy personal freedoms. Consider gender equality, right to travel, choice of work and study.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland.

  1. Popular perceptions on human rights protection; proportion of the population that think that basic human rights are well-protected.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. Again, the Swiss have the edge because they have a right the Norwegians do not have; the right to decide issues, not just elect representatives.

The right to vote is a human right; the right to vote to decide issues is another human right.

  1. There is no significant discrimination based on people’s race, colour or creed.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. But I would think the Swiss are ahead here because all of Swizerland is ethnically and culturally more diverse than Norway.

  1. Extent to which the government invokes new risks and threats as an excuse for curbing civil liberties.

Probably similar in Norway and Switzerland. Again, the Swiss have the edge because they can challenge by referendum any law the government invokes or approves to deal with emergencies. They are doing it with legislation to deal with the current pandemic.

Besides the 60 questions the EIU formulates, other questions could be added, because they are relevant to democratic quality:

  1. Can the people start changes to the constitution without the approval of support of the executive, the legislative or the judiciary?
  2. Can the people call referendums to change the constitution?
  3. Are the results of such referendums binding for government?
  4. Can the people reject treaties the government wants to sign with other countries and international organisations?
  5. Can any citizen, or unorganized group of citizens, gather signatures to have a referendum on any issue they propose.
  6. Can the politicians change the constitution without the explicit backing of the people?
  7. Are major decisions in the country made democratically by the people themselves.

In all of them, Switzerland checks “yes”, Norway is “no” in all of them.

There is no question Switzerland is the most democratic society in the World.

I wonder if the EIU does not know it; if so, it is unforgivable ignorance, or perhaps the EIU does not like real democracy and lumps Switzerland with the rest to try to make it appear that “Switzerland is just another democracy with some quirks that merit no attention”. I do not know which of the two options are worse for the professionals of the EIU and its readers.

Please, inform yourself about the quality of democracy, do not rely on the EIU or my blog. The fact is: Switzerland is by far the most democratic country.

The EIU could publish another yearly report; “How do other democracies compared to the best one, Switzerland”.

No, I am not Swiss and have zero financial or other ties to Switzerland, etc.; I just took the trouble to inform myself about democracy; representative democracies are not democracies; they are governed elected aristocrats, party leaders and lobbies, not by the will of the people.

Victor Lopez.

 

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