In search of democracy

by Aaron Wherry

Rick Salutin is searching the world for the essence of democracy—see here, here and here for the first three instalments—and in Switzerland he considers referendums.

Voter turnout for referendums and elections hovers around 45-55 per cent, comparable to our own elections — but there, voting happens constantly. Not just voting, but weighing and debating. “The whole society is in a constant state of discussion,” says Nik Nuspliger, North American correspondent for Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It’s built into Swiss life, like the legal system itself. Every law passed by parliament that affects the constitution must go to a referendum. Laws not affecting the constitution can also be sent to a referendum if 50,000 people sign a petition — out of population of 8 million. Votes can be based on “popular initiatives” if they’re supported by 100,000 names. That’s how minarets got on.

Parliament then debates and formulates a question and it can also put its own alternative on the ballot. Foreign treaties automatically get referendums. There are provisions for double majorities — both nationally and in cantons — in some cases, and time limits depending on issues. This is the sign of deep integration into normal political life: loads of rules.

The counter to any pro-referendum argument is, of course, California, which at least demonstrates the need to be very careful in designing any such system of direct democracy.




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In search of democracy

  1. “Rick Salutin is searching the world for the essence of democracy …. ”

    I thought I was being punked when I read the beginning of sentence but it is actually true that TorStar has clapped out commie Salutin on assignment looking for ‘democracy’.

    There is no perfect voting system but first past post is best because the person with most support in each riding wins. What is more democratic than the person with the most votes wins? Anglo countries with first past post systems are remarkable stable and peaceful when compared to anywhere else in world.

    • “Anglo countries with first past post systems are remarkable stable and peaceful when compared to anywhere else in world”

      That would bethe US, Britain and Canada? And Britain has a coalition government! Imagine that. But thanks for that PMO point of view Tony.

      Do you get paid to post here? Serious question.

      • If he gets paid to post here, then it’s a pretty rotten deal for whoever pays him, because 95%+ of his posts are unreadable or incoherent.

    • Tell me … does it come naturally .. or did you become what you are
      through hard work and practice ?

    • “What is more democratic than the person with the most votes wins?”

      Democracy is founded on majority rule. Therefore, it would be more democratic if our existing (Westminster-style) system had a multiple-ballot vote to ensure the person representing the riding actually represents the riding.

      The simplest multi-ballot system is Instant Runoff Voting. People rank choices (instead of choosing one.) This ensures they have a vote on a second instant runoff ballot if a candidate doesn’t win with a majority on the first ballot/round.

      There’s no reason why a majority of voters should get stuck with politicians and governments they didn’t vote for.

    • That the person who’s the most hated doesn’t win?

  2. “Anglo countries with first past post systems are remarkable stable and peaceful when compared to anywhere else in world”
    Also with first-past-the-post are stable contries like Sudan, Pakistan & Congo. Unstable countries with other systems include Australia and New Zealand.

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