My aim this week is to answer the critics who believe holding regular referendums is impractical and show that it is indeed possible and of course desirable to any fully functioning democracy who believe in real ‘People Power’.
Our fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’ proposes three types of referendums. The first would propose new laws but is only advisory. The second would allow the people to vote out new and existing laws and the third would allow the people to challenge the decisions of judges and other officials.
Importantly our new codified constitution, our sixth demand, would set out the procedures under which referendums could be held and the requirements for the results to be approved and accepted. First, for a referendum to be called would require a certain number of signatures on the official petition. Second, the ruling body, like the current Electoral Commission, would have to approve the question and the length and dates of the campaign. Third and lastly for the vote to succeed there could be a turnout requirement to validate the vote and in certain instances, like changes to the constitution, a set winning margin would also need to be meet.
Given the above ‘referendum rules’ they would not easily be held or won but when they were they would clearly indicate the views and opinions of the people which through our first demand would see them as sovereign rather than the current situation in which our parliament holds all the real power.
Fortunately, as Switzerland has a system of Direct Democracy, incidentally with local Cantons that are stronger than the national government, we are able to actually see how their system of referendums work in practice.
This year federal referendums were held on 7 March, 13 June and 26 September, with one further set scheduled to be held on 28 November. Of the three held so far, the first included three questions the second five and the third two. From the total of 10 questions five were approved and five rejected. To pick out three, a ban on wearing a full facial covering and same sex marriage were approved but one on Green House Gas emissions was rejected.
Swiss referendums take three forms: Popular Initiatives which are citizen proposals to create a new law and require 100,000 valid signatures on a petition to get on the ballot; Facultative or Optional Referendums, which are citizen proposals to approve or reject a piece of existing law and require 50,000 valid signatures on a petition to get on the ballot; and Mandatory Referendums, which are required to revise the constitution, join an international organisation or introduce emergency federal legislation for over a year.
If the Swiss can hold three referendums, so far this year with one more to come, asking the people’s opinion on 10 questions, I see no reason why we should not be capable of doing the same here.
Real democracy demands THA’s fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’.