Swiss vote to extend direct democracy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Swiss people – world record holders in the number of ballots they stage – voted yesterday to extend their direct democracy even further.

The Swiss people – world record holders in the number of ballots they stage – voted yesterday to extend their direct democracy even further.

In a national referendum, 70.3 per cent, or 934,264 people, voted in favour of two proposed reforms, which would in effect give the electorate more say over international treaties and on changing domestic laws.

The four-party coalition government had urged voters to accept the changes. Turn-out was only 28 per cent. On issues deemed to be of national importance, participation is higher – 58 per cent took part in last March's vote in favour of United Nations membership.

Switzerland, with its 4.7 million electorate, accounts for an estimated half the referendum ballots worldwide. Under its direct-democracy rules, 100,000 signatures on a petition are enough to prompt a referendum to introduce a constitutional amendment, and 50,000 signatures can challenge a proposed government decree. The peoplevote about three times a year on subjects ranging from hospital costs to asylum laws, in addition to local votes on, for example, building schools and financing road extensions.

The next referendum on 18 May featuresnine different issues, including rents, army reforms, civil protection, car-free Sundays, disabled rights and a halt to nuclear power.

The slight modifications would improve the direct-democracy system, which was introduced in 1848. People will be given the automatic right to challenge treaties signed between Switzerland and other countries. In practice this is not likely to make a big difference because all important agreements are already subject to a referendum, but the government backs the principle. "Foreign policy would thus be more firmly anchored in our democratic system," it said.

The other reform would mean the requisite number of signatures on a petition could introduce laws, not just constitutional amendments. (AP)

Comments