Explain the concept of Direct Democracy in Swiss Constitution.

(1) Introduction

There are many faces of democracy. Constitutional democracy, representative democracy, monitory democracy and direct democracy are different kinds of democracy. Direct democracy has played a key role in shaping the modern Swiss political system. Swiss direct democracy devices lead other democratic constitutions of the world.

(2) Direct Democracy

In Switzerland Direct democracy in Switzerland can be explained in the following words:

  • (i) What is direct democracy?
  • (ii) Forms, pillars or institutions of direct democracy
  • (iii) Swiss Constitution & direct democracy

(i) What Is Direct Democracy?

(a) People’s Personal Participation

Direct democracy is a political system in which people directly and personally participates in decision-making process and do not rely on their elected representatives for decision-making.

(b) People’s Involvement

Direct democracy is that form of democracy, which gives the electorate opportunities to involve themselves in the running of their government.

(c) Public

Direct democracy describes those rules, institutions and procedures that enable the public to vote directly on a proposed constitutional amendment, law, treaty or policy decision.

(ii) Forms, Pillars Or Institutions Of Direct Democracy

Referendum, citizens’ initiative, agenda initiative and recall are the four forms, pillars or institutions of direct democracy. In Switzerland, only referendum and citizens’ initiative are used.

(ii) Swiss Constitution & Direct Democracy

Chapter 2 of Title Four of The Swiss Constitution provides for direct democracy:

  • (a) Popular initiative for complete revision of Federal Constitution
  • (b) Popular initiative for partial revision of Federal Constitution
  • (c) Procedure applicable to initiative & counter-proposal
  • (d) Mandatory referendum
  • (e) Optional referendum
  • (f) Required majorities

(a) Popular Initiative For Complete Revision Of Federal Constitution

Article 138 provides for popular initiative that requests for the complete revision of the Federal Constitution:

  • (a-i) Proposal
  • (a-ii) Submission of proposal

(a-i) Proposal

One lakh persons, who are eligible to vote, can propose a complete revision of the Federal Constitution within 18 months of the official publication of their initiative.

(a-ii) Submission Of Proposal

This proposal for the complete revision of the Federal Constitution must be submitted to a vote of the People.

(b) Popular Initiative For Partial Revision Of Federal Constitution

Articles 139 and 139a provide for popular initiative that requests a partial revision of the Federal Constitution:

  • (b-i) Request
  • (b-ii) Requirements of consistency of form
  • (b-iii) Requirements of subject matter
  • (b-iv) Violation of mandatory provisions of international law
  • (b-v) General proposal or specific draft

(b-i) Request

One lakh persons, who are eligible to vote, can request a partial revision of the Federal Constitution within 18 months of the official publication of their initiative..

(b-ii) Requirements Of Consistency Of Form

If the initiative fails to comply with the requirements of consistency of form, the Federal Assembly is to declare it invalid in whole or in part.

(b-iii) Requirements Of Subject Matter

If the initiative fails to comply with the requirements of subject matter, the Federal Assembly is to declare it invalid in whole or in part.

(b-iv) Violation Of Mandatory Provisions Of International Law

If the initiative violates mandatory provisions of international law, the Federal Assembly is to declare it invalid in whole or in part.

(b-v) General Proposal Or Specific Draft

A popular initiative for the partial revision of the Federal Constitution can take the form of a general proposal or the form of a specific draft of the provisions, which are proposed:

(x) If Federal Assembly agrees with general proposal

If the initiative is in the form of a general proposal and the Federal Assembly agrees with it, the Federal Assembly shall draft the partial revision on the basis of the initiative and submit it to the vote of the People and the Cantons.

(y) If Federal Assembly Rejects General Proposal

If the initiative is in the form of a general proposal and the Federal Assembly rejects it, the Federal Assembly shall submit it to a vote of the People; the People shall decide whether the initiative should be adopted. If they vote in favor, the Federal Assembly shall draft the corresponding bill.

(z) Specific Draft

An initiative in the form of a specific draft is submitted to the vote of the People and the Cantons:

  • (z-i) Recommendation
  • (z-ii) Counter-proposal

(z-i) Recommendation

The Federal Assembly recommends whether the initiative should be adopted or rejected.

(z-ii) Counter-Proposal

The Federal Assembly can submit a counter-proposal to the initiative.

(c) Procedure Applicable To Initiative & Counter-Proposal

Article 1396 provides for the procedure that is applicable to an initiative and counter-proposal:

  • (c-i) Voting at same time
  • (c-ii) Voting for both proposals
  • (c-iii) In response to third question

(c-i) Voting At Same Time

The people vote on the initiative and the counter-proposal at the same time.

(c-ii) Voting For Both Proposals

The people can vote in favour of ooth proposals.

(c-iii) In Response To Third Question

In response to the third question, the people can indicate the proposal that they prefer if both proposals are accepted.

(d) Mandatory Referendum

According to Article 140, two kinds of voting are held for mandatory referendum:

(d-i) Vote of people & Cantons

(d-ii) Vote of people

(d-i) Vote Of People & Cantons

The followings must be put to the vote of the People and the Cantons:

  • (w) amendments to the Federal Constitution
  • (x) accession to organizations for collective security
  • (y) accession to supernatural communities
  • (z) emergency federal acts, which are not based on a provision¬†of the Constitution and whose term of validity exceeds one year

(d-ii) Vote Of People

The followings are submitted to a vote of the people:

  • (x) popular initiatives for a complete revision of the Federal Constitution
  • (y) popular initiatives for a partial revision of the Federal Constitution in the form of a general proposal that have been rejected by the Federal Assembly
  • (z) question of whether a complete revision of the Federal Constitution should be carried out in the ¬†event that there is disagreement between the two Councils

(e) Optional Referendum

According to Article 141, the followings are submitted to a vote of the people if fifty thousand persons, who are eligible to vote, or any eight Cantons request it and if such request is made within hundred days of the official publication of the enactment:

  • (e-i) federal acts
  • (e-ii) emergency federal acts whose term of validity exceeds one year
  • (e-iii) federal decrees, provided the Constitution or an act so requires
  • (e-iv) treaties that are of unlimited duration and cannot be terminated
  • (e-v) international treaties that provide for accession to an international organization
  • (e-vi) international treaties that contain important legislative provisions
  • (e-vii) International treaties whose implementation requires the enactment of federal legislation

(f) Required Majorities Article 142 provides for required majorities:

  • (f-i) Vote of people
  • (f-ii) Vote of people & Cantons
  • (f-iii) Determination of vote of Canton
  • (f-iv) Six Cantons with half a cantonal vote

(f-i) Vote Of People

Proposals, which are submitted to the vote of the People, are accepted if a majority of those, who vote, approves them

(f-ii) Vote Of People & Cantons

Proposals, which are submitted to the vote of the People and Cantons, are accepted if a majority of those, who vote, and a majority of the Cantons approve them.

(f-iii) Determination Of Vote Of Canton

The result of a popular vote in a Canton determines the vote of the Canton.

(f-iv) Six Cantons with half a cantonal vote

Six Swiss Cantons have half a cantonal vote.

(3) Conclusion

It can be finally stated that it is argued that direct democracy undermines the principle of representative democracy. Under pure representative democracy, voters elect their representatives and empower the elected representatives to make decisions on their behalf. On the other hand, in direct democracy, citizens themselves are able to decide about specific laws and do not give decision-making power to their elected representatives. These definitions reveal that both representative democracy and direct democracy are complementary to each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

B i l a l - T a h i r