While in representative democracies the people vote, hope for the best and then grumble, or go to extremes, in Switzerland’s direct democracy the people act like this:

This is just one example.

In 2019 the organisation Young Swiss Socialists was able to get 100 000 people, approximately 1% of the population of Switzerland, to sign and back their proposal to reduce taxes on salaries and increase taxes on capital.

First important thing to note; this initiative by a relatively small group of Swiss people, if approved in the popular referendum, will change the Swiss Constitution. This means the Swiss Constitution is a “living and breathing” document, continuously changing and improving democracy, as it reflects the changes in the values and concerns of the Swiss people.

The Swiss Constitution is not like the constitutions of representative democracies, in representative democracies, the Constitution is treated almost revealed absolute truth from above. Obviously the concept is balderdash; the Constitutions of all countries are written by ordinary people. Hopefully, such people are reasonable and intelligent, unfortunately, that requirement is not alway fulfilled.

Sometimes those who write the constitution claim the text comes straight from God. There is not much I can say about that…, you decide.

The hard truth is that real democracy means the people make the constitution, not the gods or those who claim divine inspiration.

This is how it was done by the Ancient Greeks, those amazing fellows who thought, without fear of gods or men, about everything there is to think about. Unfortunately, many humans feel comfortable with the darkness that claims to be light… The European started to get rid of the new dark age in the Renaissance and the Enlightment, but the job is not complete; that is another story.

The Greeks decided they would write the laws themselves, that the gods would have no say in that.

But let us take the American as an example of a well-known “Holy” Constitution. Most stable representative democracies treat their constitution in a similar manner.

The American people really can not change the Constitution. All they can do is complain, protest, take to the street and scare the politicians into changing it.

This is the process to change the US Constitution:

Article V of the United States Constitution outlines basic procedures for constitutional amendment.

  1. Congress may submit a proposed constitutional amendment to the states, if the proposed amendment language is approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
  2. Congress must call a convention for proposing amendments upon application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (i.e., 34 of 50 states).
  3. Amendments proposed by Congress or convention become valid only when ratified by the legislatures of, or conventions in, three-fourths of the states (i.e., 38 of 50 states).

Look up the process in your country and see how it works.

Th American people have zero say in the process; in the US, like in other representative democracies, all the power is in the hands of the politicians, not in the hands of the people.

The party in power may change, the majority in parliament or a congress may flip, but the end result is always the same; the power is always in the hands of the politicians, their appointees and, “indirectly” in the hands of the lobbies.

The Swiss system is very different; in the case of the current Swiss initiative to change the constitution, a 27 person committee of the Young Swiss Socialists gathered the 100 000 signatures, they had one and a half years to achieve that.

The committee succeeded and presented their proposal to the Swiss government, suggesting to the government it should act to reduce taxes on salaries and increase them for capital.

The overall argument hinges on the idea that the rich are becoming richer and their share of the national wealth keeps growing, that the situation is not fair. The initiative basically tells the Swiss government: “Here, we believe this is what you should do, 100 000 of Swiss believe you should”

The Swiss government, the executive and the legislative, debated the issue but rejected the proposal.

When that happens, another mechanism kicks in; the proposal must go to a national popular referendum. This is the real teeth in the Swiss system; 100 000 people can force a national referendum. If the proposal wins the referendum, the government has to act and develop legislation, which also can be challenged by the people, to increase taxes on capital and reduce them on salaries.

Before the referendum takes place; this one is scheduled for September 21st. 2021, there will be plenty of discussion in Switzerland in families, among friends, at workplaces, in the media, debates, etc.

As part of the process, each citizen also will receive a package of information from the government. The package includes the text of the position of the committee elaborating the proposal, the counterarguments and counter proposal of the government, as well as the positions of other important actors, such as political parties. The package is devoid of demagoguery.

By the time the referendum date arrives, any Swiss voter interested in the issue will have had plenty of time and resources to understand the issue.

This does not mean that most Swiss voters will be interested enough to vote. Some may not vote because they are not interested, others because they can not make their minds up; it is not clear to them which arguments are better; those of the government saying that wealth distribution in Switzerland is less skewed towards the rich that in other countries, that various social programs produce wealth distribution and that taxing capital more might discourage savings, investing and creating new business who are at the root of Swiss prosperity, or the arguments of the proponents.

Voter turnout in national Swiss referendums varies from the 30% to 70%, depending on the issue.

By the way; low turnouts do not mean “voter fatigue”, like some enemies of direct democracy in the US, Canada, Wester Europe, etc., say. Over one year, the Swiss vote in several referendums; taking that into account, 80% of Swiss voters vote in the referendums to decide issues. They do that besides voting every four years to elect politicians.

The system has another immense advantage over representative democracy; if the Young Swiss Socialists, and the over 100 000 people who supported the initiative, lose the referendum, they will go home and think of something else, or wait until the public mood changes and repeat the process; they know, and all other Swiss know, the decision has been a democratic decision by the people, not by a minuscule group of elected politicians.

The credibility of a decision made directly by the people is much stronger than the credibility of a decision made by politicians behind closed doors, with lobbyists, with the media owners pushing them this or that way.

The issue then for the people of representative democracies is: “why do the Swiss people have so much power to act, to propose, to force the politicians to do what the majority of the people really want, and we do not have that power?”

It is because the people of representative democracies grumble, complain, about “the politicians”, about”big business”, “big labour”, etc., but do not act. What they have to do is demand direct democracy now, as good or better a direct democracy than what the Swiss have.

Besides improving democracy, direct democracy has other benefit; it frees politicians from the clutches of the lobbies. As the politicians in a direct democracy have less power, the lobbies know it makes no sense to donate millions to the politicians to get them elected, because the politicians simply do not have the power to act the way the lobbies want them to.

If you do not do not fix your representative democracy by bringing direct democracy, who will?, your kids? Is it not better your children inherit from you a better political system?

Besides, if we do not bring direct democracy, representative democracy will continue to deteriorate because the professional politicians and the lobbies they need to get elected are pulling democracy further from the people as time passes, and polarisation of politics and voters grows.

The result could be the death of democracy. Remember that Hitler, was the product of the failing German representative democracy in the 30s. By the way, Germany was a country already developed and highly educated, but the politicians of representative democracy, somehow, wrecked democracy and Hitler rose out of its ashes.

To save democracy, we need direct democracy, and also to help others like the Chinese from the mainland, (the Chinese from Taiwan already have are switching to direct democracy), and other authoritarian regimes, including religious authoritarian regimes, go beyond the acceptance of the value of private business to develop economically; to develop culturally, socially, spiritually, even scientifically, and to have a long-term politically stable country in the modern era, humans need direct democracy.

So, why do the Swiss people have the right and the power to decide if they will pay less taxes and business more? Perhaps the Swiss will decide the current system is fair, but the key point is they can, and the rest of us do not…

Victor Lopez

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