This is how direct democracy works in Switzerland, and how it would work in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Australia, etc., if they became real democracies.

What direct democracy does is turn the people into the masters of the politicians, a radical change from the politicians being the masters of the people, as is the case in representative democracies.

The real difference between representative democracies and dictatorships is: in representatives democracies the people elect the politicians and can throw them out at the next election. There is also freedom of expression and there is a separation of powers (to a relative extent). However, once elected, the politicians in representative democracies have almost as much power as dictators. Representative democracies are ruled by an elected political class or group oligarchy. This happens particularly when the same party controls the executive and the legislature; there no mechanism for the people to stop the politicians, or tell them what to do, once the election is over.

In a direct democracy, the people have mechanisms to control the politicians also after the election. They do that with people-iniatated referendums, whose results are mandatory for government to follow, on any law, issue or policy.

In representative democracies, it is always the same; the people vote, the people elect and the people hope for the best because they do not have any decision-making power on any law or issue; the politicians have all that power. No wonder so many people do not bother with voting; It does not matter if the progressives or the conservatives are in power; they both dictate to the people. They tell the people what laws they will have to follow, the taxes they will pay, how the health system will work, how the education system will work, when a new road will be built, and on and on.

Direct democracy stops all that, in a direct democracy, the politicians can only do what the people approve of, tacitly or explicitly, and the politicians have to do what the people, democratically, by majority vote, tell them to do.

To illustrate how direct democracy works in Switzerland, I will use two referendums the Swiss will have on the coming Sept., 26th.

Swiss referendums are not called, can not be called, by the politicians, they can not do that, Swiss referendums are called by the people, and the results are mandatory for the politicians to follow.

In the Swiss referendums, the politicians, the executive and the legislative give their opinion on the way they believe the people should vote, no more. They have no power to do anything else. The people who propose the referendum also give their opinion on how the voters should vote.

It all starts with one person or a small group of people thinking: “I believe the government should be fairer, business should pay more taxes and individuals less”.

The people mobilise and gather the required number of signatures.

The number of signatures and the time the people have to collect them is reasonable; the people do not consider the number of signatures too high, or the time to collect them too short. Of course, if enough people felt that way, they would make the extra effort to hold a referendum to reduce the number of signatures, and/or the time required to collect them.

To collect the signatures, the group who proposes the referendum put together their arguments as of why it is necessary, in the case of one of the votes to be held on Sept., 26th, to reduce taxes to individuals and increase them for business.

Once they gather the signatures, which is a process carefully supervised by the law-enforcement authorities to ensure the rules are respected, the people present their document and the signatures to the government.

But the referendums is not automatic; the government can present to the referendum organising committee an alternative. If the committee accepts what the government proposes, they can withdraw the referendum.

Neither the federal executive nor the federal legislature can stop the referendum, only its proponents can stop it. The Swiss Supreme Court can not stop the results of any referendum on “constitutional” grounds. For the Swiss, the highest constitutional authority is the people, not the Supreme Court. For the Swiss, it makes no sense that judges, directly or indirectly appointed by the politicians, could overturn a referendum.

In Switzerland, ordinary judges can decide that a referendum is invalid if evidence shows that procedures were not followed in any of the steps of the referendum, starting with the collection of signatures.

One of the two referendums that will take place on Sept. 26 will decide if Switzerland will reduce taxes for individuals and increase them for business.

For the next post, I have translated from French the documentation the Swiss government sent on this referendum to every household. In it, the government explains the position of the executive and the legislative, and recommends to the voters acceptance or rejection of the proposal by the group that collected the signatures. In the same document, the proponents of the referendum present their arguments and recommend that the people vote in favour of the proposal.

The recommendations of political parties, unions and other significant groups are sometimes included in the information package sent to the people.

I translated the documents so that you will capture the tone and atmosphere surrounding Swiss referendums.

It is easy to appreciate the absence of the usual demagoguery and other fireworks we see in politicians in representative democracies, during election campaigns and also in parliament.

In Switzerland, the executive, the legislative and the proponents of the referendum present their arguments in a calm, factual way. There is no attacking directly what the other parties say; each presents their arguments to support their position, nothing else.

This fosters rationality and the rational expression of convictions, not the shenanigans we see in representative democracies.

Swiss electoral campaigns are also relatively subdued events. This is due to the fact that Swiss politicians have much less power than politicians in representative democracies. Everybody in Switzerland knows the people are really the sovereign, even the lobbies know and accept that they have no choice. The fight is not as aggressive as in representative democracies either. In part it is because Swiss politicians can not please the economic and political lobbies; they lack the power to do so.

Victor Lopez

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