Interesting studies

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    Interesting paper. I did not read through the whole thing, but one section did catch my eye in particular about referendums, especially since it seems nowadays throughout Canada anytime a Political Party doesn’t really want to do something, but wants to appear as though they want to do it so that they can win votes, they just say, “let the people decide in a referendum!”

    In the passage below the author asserts that while the referendum process works in Switzerland, it may not transfer well to other societies without it becoming more ingrained into our everyday expected lives similar to regularly scheduled general elections.

    It also makes the case that one referendum defeat is not the end of an issue, but potentially just the start (women’s suffrage). This might also be played out if Britain has a second Brexit referendum.

    A particular feature of Switzerland is the strong importance of the referendum; this feature may not easily be transferred to other deeply divided societies coming out of civil war. Usually, Swiss citizens vote four times a year on a great variety of topics at the federal, cantonal, and communal levels. The referendum is, of course, a majoritarian devise, which contrasts with the power sharing institutions. It helps to break deadlocks in the power sharing institutions. It is also an instrument to empower minorities. When in a major constitutional revision in 1874, the referendum for parliamentary bills was introduced, it gave to the Catholic Conservatives a weapon to block federal legislature. A well-known example is their blockage of a federal school office. When later in the 19th century, the popular initiative was introduced, this gave even more power to minorities. With so much power to the people, is there not the danger that the entire political system is blocked? Here, one has to consider that referenda and initiatives are not one-shot events. If a bill of parliament is rejected in a referendum this is not the end of the political game. Parliament may revise the bill based on the critique expressed during the referendum campaign, and if the necessary signatures are collected a new referendum takes place. With regard to popular initiatives, the same logic holds; if an initiative is rejected, the supporters of the initiative may modify the text and submit it to another popular vote. Using referenda and initiative in this way, gives flexibility to the system. When they lose, supporters of a referendum or an initiative get second and sometimes even third and fourth chances. Female suffrage was only introduced after several failures in referenda. Using referendum and initiative for more than a hundred years led to great familiarity with these two instruments and helped to overcome the deep divisions between Catholic Conservatives and Free Democrats. It also helped to overcome other conflicts, in particular among German, French and Italian speakers and between rural and urban regions. Referendum and popular initiative are so much embedded in Swiss political culture that they hardly can be transferred to other countries. In this sense, we consider the lessons from Switzerland as quite limited. To be sure, power sharing institutions and a culture of deliberation seem to be necessary conditions to successfully get out of a civil war. But they may not be sufficient conditions in the sense of not being enough participatory. To involve ordinary citizens much more in the political decision process, one needs a full-fledged referendum, which requires a very long practice to become a functional part of a political system.



    Thanks,George! And thanks so much for giving us a bite-sized bit since I too didn’t read the entirety.

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