This is how direct democracy works in Switzerland… and would work in your country

The key difference between direct democracy and representative democracy is this: in a representative democracy people vote to elect their representatives, in direct democracy, voters elect their representatives and also vote to decide issues.

In a direct democracy, the people also decide which issue, law, regulation, policy, change the constitution, etc., they want to decide.

In direct democracy the results of the referendum on any issue can not be challenged, ignored or overturned by the executive, the legislative or the Supreme Court. In a direct democracy, the results of referendums must be implemented by government.

The only established direct or, better, semi-direct democracy we have is Switzerland.

This is what the Swiss can do that you and the people in your representative democracy can not do:

The Swiss vote 4 times each year to decide issues. They vote on issues and laws at the federal level, the canton (state) level and also at the commune (municipality) level.

The referendums are initiated by the citizens or mandated by law, and the politicians can not deny, stop or overturn a referendum in any way, nor can the Swiss Supreme Court.

To trigger a referendum, all the people have to do is collect approximately 0.5% of 1% of signatures of eligible voters, but some somewhat higher figures are also possible. The proponents of referendums have plenty of time to collect the required signatures.

In Switezrland it is easy for the people to trigger a referendum. In other countries with some form of direct democracy, it is not so easy to get a referendum under way, often because the number of signatures required is too high and/or the time allowed is too short.

Once the required number of signatures has been collected in the required time, Swiss governments prepare a package they send to to each voter.

The package contains the position of the proponents of the referendum, the position of goverments and the position of other relevant parties, such as political parties, environmental organisations, etc.

Then, 3 to 4 weeks before voting, voters receiveve a package

The package explains the objective of the referendums and the positions of the proponents, of governments and other parties.

The people also receive a voting ballot.

In the weeks previous to the referendums there are are lots of discussions, debates and forums to help people understand the issue.

Depending on the issue, voter turnout varies, because not all issues interest most voters. Therefore, participation in referendums can be as low as 25% and as high as 70%.

Low turnouts do not mean Swiss voters are “tired” of voting or apathetic, all it means is that issue did not interest many voters. But that is OK, the important thing for democracy is that the group who got the referendum going, can see what the people, democratically, decide.

Because of that, the “losers” do not get angry or disillusioned; they had the opportunity to put the issue before the people and will accept whatever the people decide, because that is real democracy. If, after the people, democratically, reject what a group proposed in the referendum, the proponent’s only reasonable option is to accept the verdict, otherwise it is obvious they are not democrats; they would be elitists, fanatics, messianic, etc., but not democrats.

In Switzerland, a group of individuals, a party, even a party with no representation in parliament, a union, an environmental group, etc., can collect the required signatures to force a referendum.

Direct democracy is not complicated, really; the people decide. What is complicated is to overcome the resistance of politicians and lobbies to direct democracy. They resist because they know they will lose power and influence. The Swiss elites also resisted direct democracy almost 200 years ago, but the Swiss people insisted and the politicians, and others, yielded.

Direct democracy is about putting voters at the controls, not the elected politicians, like in representative democracy.

The more I learn about direct democracy, the more I see is the logical evolution for representative democracy. I am convinced you will also reach that conclusion. But to bring it to your people, you will have to insist, often and intensely, but peacefully.

Victor Lopez

Leave a Reply