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Forum Post: Demand This One Thing

Posted 10 years ago on Dec. 4, 2011, 4:39 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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How direct democracy makes Switzerland a better place

By Bruno Kaufmann

12:01AM BST 18 May 2007

Think Local

Modern representative democracy has, in most countries across the globe, just recently become an essential part of political life. Only a few places, such as Britain, the United States and New Zealand have enjoyed an unbroken parliamentary system of government for more than a century. However, there is one country that does more than any other to embody popular sovereignty within a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-confessional society: Switzerland.

In this alpine republic with just seven million people, citizens' law-making is exercised on all political levels - including almost 3,000 autonomous municipalities, 26 sovereign states and on the common, federal level.

While it embraces direct democracy, Switzerland is nevertheless still a representative democracy. Most laws are made and decided by parliament. The important difference, however, between the Swiss system and the "indirect" democracy of Britain is that citizens are entitled to put almost every law decided by their representatives to a general vote - if they want.

For this to happen, members of the public need to gather 50,000 signatures (approximately one per cent of the electorate) within 100 days of the publication of a new law. In 96 out of 100 cases, no such referendum is triggered, because the parliamentary process enjoys a very high level of legitimacy. That is because the elected lawmakers know that their work will be seriously checked by the public, so do a very good job indeed.

The comprehensive system of checks and balances in Switzerland also gives the citizens the right to propose almost any constitutional amendment they wish. Such an amendment cannot, of course, violate international law or human rights. To put forward such an initiative, citizens need to gather a minimum of 100,000 signatures within 18 months.

Last but not least, the basic rules of the game of Swiss democracy are controlled by the citizens of the country, who have the last word on all constitutional changes - even those proposed by the government and parliament - as well as most international treaties.

Interestingly, the strong elements of direct democracy in Swiss politics have not weakened representative democracy or parliament. On the contrary: when established as a modern and devolved republic back in 1848, Switzerland was - as Britain is still today - a purely indirect democracy with a one-party government. It took many years, and many democratic movements, to get a more fine-tuned division of power, which now offers all forces and groups in the country a fair opportunity to take an active part in setting the political agenda, and in determining the final decision. And this is not simply oppositional: while most popular initiatives proposed by minority groups fail at the ballot box, most governmental proposals get support. Government in Switzerland is not delivering for people, but with them.

As each municipality and each state (or canton) has its own constitutions, you can also measure the effects of modern direct democracy in practice. Startlingly, those parts of the country where the people are most involved in politics also have better public services and stronger economies.

From the Swiss experience we can all learn that representative democracy can do much better, if it includes comprehensive and citizen-friendly methods of participation. In Switzerland, the most important - but a relatively few - issues are decided by the people, important and more numerous matters by parliament, and the least important but very numerous issues by the government. That's what they mean by democracy. Bruno Kaufman is president of IRI Europe, a Brussels-based think-tank

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4 Comments


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[-] 1 points by blazefire (947) 10 years ago

I just wanted to say here, that I most certainly appreciate this system, for it's simplistic vision, and it's functional democratic system. I don not believ that this is the answer that occupy are looking for... This is only an opinion, naught more.

http://occupytogether.com/forum/discussion/comment/6634#Comment_6634

I would argue for a new system, completely (see above link), and also I would think that you would find much in common with these ideals and with what is happening in iceland atm,

http://www.occupytogether.org/discuss/#/discussion/125/why-iceland-should-be-in-the-news-but-is-not

Anyhoo.....THANK-YOU! Your input here is what this is all about, and I think that as long as we all keep talking, keep communicating, debating and discoursing, the truth, and the truth of our future, WILL by that very act surface.

Agitate, educate, organise.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Let the issue of Initiative, Referendum, and Recall at all levels of government be the single issue that determines whether or not a person seeking to either obtain or retain public office gets your vote. As the collective voting body of your representative district, come together to have a candidate sign a contract committing them to a constitutional amendment for Initiative, Referendum, and Recall at all levels of government. If they don't sign the contract, they don't get your vote.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

If there is one thing that OWS should demand that should have all of America behind them, it is the demand for Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, at all levels of government.

[-] 0 points by ronjj (-241) 10 years ago

As Nancy P. would say, we have to pass it to see what is in it. At least I think it was her. If not someone else who has a head full of air.