citizens' initiative and referendum




Extracts from the main Swiss governance web site which provide
an introduction to direct democracy

The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation

Political rights in the Swiss Confederation


"There is scarcely any other country in which the people have such far-reaching rights of co-determination as in Switzerland ...
Popular initiative
"Citizens may seek a decision on an amendment they want to make to the Constitution. For such an initiative to be organized, the signatures of 100,000 voters must be collected within 18 months.

A popular initiative may be formulated as a general proposal or much more often be put forward as a precise new text whose wording can no longer be changed by Parliament and the Government.

The authorities sometimes respond to such an initiative with a counter-proposal (generally less far-reaching) in the hope that the people and States will give their preference to it.

Since 1987, the possibility of a double yes vote has existed in ballots on popular initiatives: voters may approve both the initiative and the counter-proposal. A deciding question determines which of the two texts will enter into force if both of them secure a popular majority and a majority of the States.

Popular initiatives do not originate from the Parliament or Government but from the citizens themselves. They are therefore regarded as the driving force behind direct democracy." http://www.admin.ch/ch/e/pore/index.html


"The people are entitled to pronounce on Parliamentary decisions after the event.

Federal laws, generally binding decisions of the Confederation and State treaties concluded for an indefinite duration are subject to an optional referendum: in this case, a popular ballot is held if 50,000 citizens so request. The signatures must be collected within 100 days of publication of a decree.

The referendum is similar to a veto and has the effect of delaying and safeguarding the political process by blocking amendments adopted by Parliament or the Government or delaying their effect -- the referendum is therefore often described as a "brake" applied by the people." http://www.admin.ch/ch/e/pore/index4.html

Popular ballots (may also be called referendums).

Popular ballots

"Right to vote
Persons who are entitled to take part in elections may also cast their vote in popular ballots, i.e. all citizens living at home or abroad over the age of eighteen, who have not been incapacitated on grounds of mental illness or mental debility.

Compulsory (or obligatory) referendum
A referendum is compulsory on all amendments to the Constitution and on membership to some international organizations. A vote must be held in such cases and a double majority is needed for adoption: firstly, a popular majority by which is meant a majority of the valid votes cast throughout the country, and secondly a majority of the States, i.e. a majority of cantons in which the voters adopted the proposal.

Optional (or facultative) referendum
Amended or new laws and similar decisions of Parliament and certain treaties in international law are the subject of a vote only if this is specially requested by an optional referendum. In that case, a majority of the votes cast is sufficient for adoption." http://www.admin.ch/ch/e/pore/index2.html

A link to "Political rights" appears on the front page of Switzerland's web site http://www.admin.ch/

Extracts from the Swiss front page may be found here  (click)

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