Referendums as a Swiss instrument of democracy?
A referendum permits all citizens, via the petition method, to submit actions of the Legislature to the ballot prior to these turning into law. The referendum also allows the Legislature to submit regulation to the electorate for consent or dismissal. Voting in a referendum is like voting in the general election, the main change is what is expected from voters to enter on their referendum ballot document. In a referendum, voters are expected to enter ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in the check box opposing each question on the ballot document.
At a national level, referendum is a frequent event in Switzerland where a direct democracy is a crucial element of the political environment. All Swiss nationals 18 and older can vote, even the Swiss nationals listed as living in other countries. This structure of a “direct democracy” obliges any modification to the constitution to be presented to all the people in the form of a referendum. One example of this is the 2001 proposal of Switzerland entering the EU, with a 77% of electors dismissing it. Then in 2002, Swiss voters joined at last the United Nations with a 58.4 approval percentage. What brings a lot of attention from the international community, is the incredible high voter turn out to pass or not referendums, which at instances is much higher than the electors turn out for Political candidates seeking to hold local or national offices. It should not come as a surprise that the Swiss have voted about 306 times since 1848, with 299 proposals approved, and 334 denied. Of course, there is also the risks of the so-called “tyranny of the majority” where some referendum are aimed directly at minorities and how these could get affected, thankfully there some political instruments that can turn this instances around and mend them if necessary.
The rest of Europe, and the US show some sort of shyness towards making referendums a definitive tool in their democratic systems, and while there are good precedents, there is still not a widely positive consensus on the topic.
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Source: Beach, Dereck. Referendums in the EU. 2018
Is a referendum doomed by “the tyranny of the majority”?
Well, in my opinion, any democracy can, at some point lead to a “tyranny of the majority”, where the vast majority of the people can dictate legislature for decades, but, they most important element to consider, is not what opinion the majority have, but how diverse that majority actually is, because in countries with small numbers of immigrants, ethnic groups or even almost null racial disparity, it clearly puts those groups at a disadvantage.