Chapter 12: Direct democratic participation in Switzerland
Democratic reforms, aimed at extending opportunities for citizen participation in local policy making have been on the public sector reform agenda in many countries in recent years (cf. Dalton et al. 2003; Denters & Rose 2005; Kersting & Vetter 2003; Schaap & Daemen 2012). Such reforms cover a wide spectrum, ranging from the provision of information, consultation and active participation based on partnerships, to binding decision making by citizens expressing their opinions through initiatives and referendums. Not all of these reforms, however, can be subsumed under the term ‘direct democracy’. The very essence of direct democracy – especially as it is practised in Switzerland – is the idea that citizens should, according to the principle of popular sovereignty, hold the right to make binding political decisions. The keystone of direct democracy, in short, is the decisiveness of results of direct democratic decision-making processes. Citizens do not delegate power to make political decisions to elected representatives; instead they keep this prerogative in their own hands. Even when elected representatives are entrusted with public duties, citizens remain in ultimate control. The responsiveness of public officials is secured because they know that their decisions are subject to public approval and that they risk a possible rebuke in a subsequent referendum should they disregard public opinion. Direct democracy, therefore, can be seen as an extreme form of government by the people (Kübler & Ladner 2003: 142 ff.). There are various ways of implementing the idea of direct democracy. Two principal alternatives can be distinguished. One option is to introduce procedures of direct democratic participation.
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