Direct democracy

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The Pnyx with speaker's platform in Athens, the place of the Attic people's assembly , the earliest example of direct democracy
Vote at the Landsgemeinde in the Swiss canton of Glarus , 2006
Swearing in at the rural community in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden , 2005

As a direct democracy (even direct democracy or properly direct democracy called) is called - in the narrow sense - both methods and a political system in which the voting population ( "the people") tunes directly on political matters of substance. Direct democracy - viewed in this way - thus has two meanings:

  1. On the one hand, it describes a form of rule in which (part of) power is exercised directly by the people in votes. In contrast to this, full exercise of power would be grassroots democracy or anarchy .
  2. On the other hand, it describes individual political decision-making processes in which the people vote directly on factual issues in an otherwise representative democracy .

The latter variant of meaning is also called semi-direct or plebiscitary democracy due to the combination of elements of direct and indirect democracy .

Occasionally, aspects of citizen participation , rights to information and access to files are also referred to as “direct democracy”. If, however, the type of participation is not primarily viewed as the taking of concrete decisions, but rather as the intensive participation of as many as possible in as much as possible , one speaks more of deliberative , participatory democracy and others - such as: concordance , consensus , Proportional , referendum , negotiation democracy , etc., depending on which of the aspects is in the foreground of these models.

These individual considerations are increasingly "coupled, combined, connected, linked, dovetailed". Gradually, a broader, more comprehensive approach of a diverse democracy is emerging , which (initially) connects the representative, direct and deliberative aspects with one another.

Concrete experiences of developed democracies, and the increasing exchange with them, could contribute to the fact that on the way to more direct democracy - direct democracy in the broader sense - after the more well-known referendums on popular initiatives and referendums , the basis of which are expanded political rights (part of the People's rights ), a number of other direct democratic , closely interwoven elements, procedures and processes are also gradually being applied elsewhere.

Instruments of direct democracy

Individual decision-making procedures (instruments) of direct democracy , which act as a supplement and corrective to the representative organs, exist in most democratically constituted states. In terms of naming, design, scope and actual political significance for a state, however, there are very large differences, so that generally similar types of procedures can be summarized.

With all direct democratic instruments, the people can either submit a proposal (an initiative) to the elected representatives themselves and / or vote directly on a proposal. Most of the instruments require voters to collect a set number of signatures in order to introduce a bill or to get a vote on a bill. Different instruments often build on each other. For example, it can be regulated that a referendum must be preceded by a popular initiative.


The term referendum can be used to summarize all those direct popular votes in which the voting proposal (i.e. the subject of an initiative or referendum presented to the vote in Switzerland ) does not come from the people themselves, but from an elected representative. In many - but not all - referendums, the vote itself is not preceded by a collection of signatures, but the draft is submitted directly to the people for voting. Since this instrument of direct democracy - depending on its specific form - can be used by the executive or legislative branch under certain circumstances to circumvent the existing separation of powers in a country, there is an increased risk of abuse in weak democracies.

Examples of such procedures are:

Initiative procedure

Initiative procedures are those direct democratic instruments in which the people can bring a matter or a proposal (an initiative ) to the elected representation for compelling deliberation. The vote on the acceptance or rejection of the bill is incumbent solely on the elected representatives, the people do not vote themselves. After the initiative has been dealt with in the elected representation, the process is over, regardless of the outcome.

Examples of such procedures are:

Referendum procedure

Referendum procedures are all those direct democratic instruments in which the people themselves work out a proposal that is ultimately decided by the people themselves in a direct vote. As a rule, they include the submission of the template (the initiative) and the decision on these several individual procedures that build on one another. Since in such proceedings both the initiative and the final decision-making right lie with the people themselves, these come closest to the democratic ideal of the people as sovereign , although the people only exercise their sovereign rule selectively on a single question.

Examples of such procedures are:

History and Practice of Direct Democracy

Attic democracy

Direct democracy as the original form of democracy did not originally develop in territorial states, but in smaller communities, etc. a. the ancient greek polis . The first known direct democracy was practiced in Athens in ancient times and is known as the Attic Democracy . Here decisions were made in a meeting of all voters. However, only full male citizens, a minority of the total population, were entitled to vote. The Germanic Thing is sometimes mentioned as a further source for traditions of direct democracy . An almost completely implemented direct democracy, as it still existed in the Middle Ages, for example in the Three Leagues or the Landsgemeinden , does not currently exist anywhere in the world, because the current density of regulations makes it necessary to partially delegate tasks to representatives of the people (parliament).


Of all democracies, Switzerland has the most far-reaching direct democratic elements. It is a semi-direct democracy and knows direct democratic instruments at all political levels ( municipality , canton , federal state ), which play an important role in the politics of the country. The specific design of the individual instruments differs considerably both between the political levels and between the individual cantons. As a rule, there are four voting weekends per year, on which several proposals from all political levels are usually voted on. At the federal level, referendums have been held since 1848.

At the federal level , the constitution stipulates what is subject to the mandatory referendum or the optional referendum . Constitutional amendments must in any case be approved by the people in a referendum without collecting signatures. With the optional referendum, citizens with a collection of at least 50,000 signatures of eligible voters can also submit a law that has already been passed to a referendum (i.e. a vote by the people). There is also the popular initiative , in which 100,000 signatures of eligible voters can be used to request a constitutional amendment.

In the 26 cantons , the cantonal constitutions determine what has to be “before the people”. In some cantons there is an obligatory referendum, which means that all bills there must be approved by the people. In smaller cantons, in addition to the laws, this can also be the financial budget and thus also the tax rates. But also in more populous cantons there are financial referrals for larger amounts of expenditure .

In cities and municipalities , too , the population often makes its own decisions about the financial budget. In addition, many municipalities do not have a parliament. In this case, the people who are entitled to vote do the legislative work themselves in a municipal assembly. Many offices such as courts, school authorities and district authorities and, in some cases, primary school teachers are also elected directly by the people.

In two smaller cantons ( Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden and Canton Glarus ) the parliamentary representation only has an advisory function. The actual legislation is directly democratically exercised in a so-called Landsgemeinde by the electorate.

"The direct democracy of Switzerland ... is characterized by the interaction of all actors ...
... This shapes our political culture and means - even if parliament, government and population do not agree - that there is no gap between the population, parliament and the Federal Council ...
... Citizens have a lot of responsibility ... a courageous system ...
... [here] it is not the rules that are decisive ... but the political culture ... which is also based on the respect of those who think differently, at all levels: [in government], in parliament, in the population. Everyone is important in our democracy.
... The direct people's rights were originally created to give weight to those voices that would otherwise go unheard through the established channels of legislation ...
... compared to states in which the governments are regularly changed, our democratic system ensures stability [ that is constructive, open and supports development, change] . Large reform projects have a long lead time; In the end, however, there is a broad-based compromise that will last through the next elections ... "


In Germany , some direct democratic elements are planned at all political levels, but their design is often very restrictive and only played a very selective role in the country's politics until the 1990s.

At the federal level there is currently no right of initiative for the people. However, Article 20, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law regulates : “All state authority comes from the people. It is exercised by the people in elections and votes [...]. ”Since“ elections ”always relate to people and“ votes ”always relate to factual issues, people's legislation is in principle covered by the Basic Law. In Art. 76 GG, however, the legislative procedure is set out without “the people” being mentioned there. The Federal Constitutional Court and the vast majority of constitutional lawyers interpret this contradiction in such a way that people's legislation can be introduced at the federal level, but only after Article 76 of the Basic Law has been supplemented with appropriate wording. In 2002 the SPD and Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen introduced a joint bill, and in 2005 the LINKEN , FDP and Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen in separate bills. The 2002 draft achieved a majority of votes in the vote, but failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority . Apart from the right of initiative, the Basic Law currently only provides for direct democratic participation of the people in a total revision of the Basic Law ( Art. 146 GG) and in the reorganization of the federal territory ( Art. 29 Paragraph 2 ff. GG). The latter, however, is not a nationwide vote, but merely a territorial plebiscite in the federal states concerned. The national peoples can confirm or reject the merger or division of their countries in a referendum.

At the likewise representative state level , direct democracy in the form of people's legislation has been introduced in all 16 German federal states since 1998. After the founding of the West German federal states (from 1949), some state constitutions already provided for people's legislation (e.g. Bavaria and Hesse ); in other federal states this was initially dispensed with. After German reunification and the founding of the eastern federal states, people's legislations were incorporated into the respective constitutions everywhere - not least because of the experience of the GDR in the authoritarian state. As a result, this boost to democratization spilled back into the western federal states, so that now all federal states have national legislation. The design of the people's legislation differs greatly in the federal states, however, and accordingly has different effectiveness. While in Bavaria , Berlin and Hamburg, for example , people's legislation is relatively citizen-friendly and is therefore regularly applied, in Hesse the hurdles for initiatives from the people are very high and have actually never been applied (status: 2010).

In the German municipalities , a matter can be brought to the respective municipal representative using the instrument of the citizens' initiative. Takes not this desire, the voters, in a referendum vote directly on the issue. As with the federal states, the structure in the municipalities within Germany fluctuates very strongly, with the relevant regulations being determined by the respective state parliament and the municipalities themselves having little or no influence on this. Comparatively citizen-friendly regulations in Bavaria have led to more than 1,000 direct democratic procedures at municipal level since 1995, while in the same period in Saarland there were only 15, eight of which were declared inadmissible. In addition to citizens' petitions and referendums, in some federal states there is the instrument of the resident application (sometimes also: citizen application), with which submissions can be submitted to the municipal representation.


Ballot paper for the annexation of Austria to the German Reich , with a suggestive “voting recommendation” for yes

Direct democratic instruments were first introduced in Germany in the Weimar Republic . Art. 73 WRV granted the population the right to submit a legislative proposal to parliament with at least 10% of the signatures of the voters. If Parliament did not approve this draft, a referendum was held, the success of which depended on 50% of the electorate taking part ( participation quorum ) and the majority of participants also approving the referendum.

All three attempts at a referendum at the national level failed. In 1926, the " expropriation of princes " supported by the KPD and SPD failed with a participation of 39.6% and 96.1% yes votes to the quorum. The popular initiative "Against the building of the armored cruiser" , supported by the KPD, failed in 1928 with 1.2 million signatures, already at the 10% signature quorum and did not make it to the referendum. The referendum against the Young Plan , which had been supported by the NSDAP and DNVP , failed in 1929 with only 14.9% participation, 94.5% of which were yes votes, i.e. with 13.8% support of all eligible voters Quorum.

Although none of the procedures in Weimar were implemented politically, the experiences of that time are repeatedly used as an argument against direct democracy in Germany today. The right-wing extremists in Weimar would have had opportunities to agitate through direct democracy , which would have undermined democracy. On the other hand, it is often objected that it was primarily the poor design of the direct democratic instruments that was problematic. The high participation quorum made it easy for the opponents of a referendum to bring it down by boycotting the democratic process instead of fighting for a democratic majority in the referendum. The already weak anchoring of democracy in society was thus strengthened by the participation quorum. In addition, representative democracy, especially in the Reichstag elections , would have offered the extremists appropriate opportunities for agitation.

During the dictatorship of the National Socialists, four referendums were held ( leaving the League of Nations in 1933, combining offices of the Reich President and Reich Chancellor in 1934, occupation of the Rhineland in 1936 and annexation of Austria in 1938). They were unclear and formulated suggestively and also only offered the possibility of retrospectively approving measures that had already been taken. In addition, with the unrealistically high number of yes votes (e.g. 99.73% for the annexation of Austria to the German Reich), manipulation can be assumed. In any case, the votes did not correspond to the principles of a democratic election .

When the German federal states were founded in 1946, a whole series of state constitutions were adopted by referendum (e.g. the Hessian and Bavarian constitution ). Direct democratic procedures were rare in the Federal Republic of Germany until the 1990s and played a role above all in the reorganization of the federal territory.


The Principality of Liechtenstein has also had direct democratic procedures since the 1921 constitution. Since Liechtenstein is a constitutional hereditary monarchy, the local parliament and the people of the country do not have the same rights and powers as they are usual for a fully valid democracy. The parliament or the people can pass laws, but the final decision on their adoption is made solely by the prince or a deputy who is appointed by him . If the Prince does not sign off a law within six months, it is deemed to have been rejected.

Nevertheless, the Liechtenstein constitution includes a whole range of direct democratic instruments. 1000 Liechtenstein citizens (approx. 5.5% of the eligible population) have been able to bring an initiative to parliament since 1921. If the state parliament rejects the initiative, there is a referendum. The state parliament itself can decide with a majority of its members on its own that a resolution is put to the people for direct vote. Since 1992, international treaties , and since 2003 also constitutional amendments and resolutions that include one-off expenses of CHF 500,000  or recurring expenses of CHF 250,000, have been subject to the optional referendum, which 1,500 Liechtenstein citizens (approx. 8%) can take within 30 days. In addition, Liechtenstein has had the obligatory referendum for extreme (at least 1.5 times) tax increases since 1921 and, since 2003, also for disputes in the appointment of judges and in the event of the abolition of the monarchy. The prince has no right of veto on the latter .


At the federal level , the Republic of Austria has three direct democratic instruments: the referendum , the referendum and the referendum . Two nationwide referendums took place in the Second Republic: 1978 on the commissioning of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant and 1995 on accession to the European Union . The only nationwide referendum to date was on maintaining or abolishing compulsory military service in Austria . For all popular initiatives, see the list of popular initiatives in Austria . At the municipal level, Austria has no direct democratic instruments.

On the state level direct democracy is governed more mixed. Many federal states such as Vorarlberg know the same direct democratic instruments as the federal level (referendum, referendum, referendum). Other federal states (e.g. Upper Austria ) are less familiar with direct democratic instruments or use different terms.

At the community level , the picture also differs depending on the country. For the most part, the same direct democratic instruments are available as at the federal / state level, often under a different name ( community referendum , community referendum , community popular petition ). The states of Vorarlberg and Styria also know the combination of direct democratic right of initiative with subsequent binding voting (referendum and referendum) as it is also designed in Germany.

In Austria there are always debates about expanding and restructuring direct democracy. On the one hand, some Austrian parties, including parliamentary parties such as the FPÖ or the Neos, are striving to transform the Austrian system into the Swiss model, in the expectation of having the "will of the people" on their side. On the other hand, the topic is also increasingly discussed in civil society, often calling for the so-called Salzburg model , which provides for an expansion of direct democracy in Austria, in particular the right to binding votes through initiatives from the electorate.

Other states

Many democratic states in the world have direct democratic elements in their political system in one form or another. The direct democratic instruments introduced in Switzerland in the 19th century often served as a model. Some US states were among the first to adopt this . B. California and Oregon , which meanwhile also look back on a hundred year tradition of direct democracy.

Since the end of the 1990s, some Latin American countries ( Venezuela , Bolivia ) in particular have expanded direct democratic elements in the political system in the course of constitutional revisions. Depending on the political point of view, this is seen as an attempt to overcome the often strongly clientelist politics of the Latin American countries or as an attempt to cover up an autocratic undermining of democracy with plebiscite means.

In the European Union , the referendums on the EU Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands in the 2000s caused a sensation, in which the ratification of the treaty was rejected by the majority of voters. A referendum was also planned in Ireland and a rejection was expected. Only Ireland held a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty , which was very similar in content . This took place on June 12, 2008 and resulted in a rejection. After various corrections to the contract, another referendum was held on October 2, 2009 - this time with a positive outcome.

Since April 1, 2012, the EU itself has had its first - albeit very limited - direct democratic instrument in the form of the European Citizens' Initiative .

Democracy-theoretical considerations and political debates

The discussions held and the arguments put forward in the respective countries differ considerably due to the different forms of government. In Germany and Austria, whose states are predominantly representative-democratic, the debates on direct democracy often revolve around fundamental considerations. Most of the arguments there concentrate on the question of whether a stronger turn to direct democratic procedures is desirable at all and what supposedly positive or negative effects on the functioning of democracy can be expected. In Switzerland, on the other hand, which, as a semi-direct democracy, already has the most extensive direct democratic instruments available worldwide, the fundamental sense of direct democratic procedures across all political camps is overwhelmingly affirmed. Rather, the focus of the discussion is on the specific design of individual instruments and the regulations that accompany them (donation transparency, spending limits in the voting campaign, etc.).

Broad debate

The debates on the role of direct democratic instruments in Germany and Austria often have ideological features that focus on the basic understanding of democracy. In a somewhat generalized way, three major currents become visible in the political debates on direct democracy.

Supporters of a so-called “output-oriented” (read: result-oriented) approach to democracy are usually reserved or even hostile to direct democratic instruments. They argue that a democracy must be able to make decisions based on specialist knowledge about social problems without a long delay. The representatives of the “output-oriented” democracy see these characteristics realized in the existing parliaments , in which MPs can usually decide full-time, supported by staff and scientific expertise , in case of doubt, even on urgent matters at short notice. In this understanding, direct democratic procedures disrupt democratic processes by requiring considerably more time and transferring decisions to people without specialist knowledge. Associated with this, the danger is often seen that direct democratic principles lead to “bad” solutions that are not factually appropriate. In addition, there is a threat of democracy sliding into populism , in which demagogic forces take advantage of the moods in the population inflated by the media in order to incite the population or enforce particular interests.

On the other hand, there are supporters of a so-called “input-oriented” (read: participation-oriented) approach to democracy who advocate direct democratic instruments as an important building block for expanding and deepening democracy in society. They argue that simply sticking to the parliamentary forms of democracy is no longer sufficient in a society shaped by individualization . The number of members of parties , trade unions and churches , i.e. the major social formations of the 20th century, which has been falling for many years , clearly shows that fewer and fewer people felt represented by them. It is therefore important to adapt democracy to the changing social conditions and - in addition to elections - to create further instruments of democratic participation through direct democracy and citizen participation. The prerequisite for a stable democracy is not “good” solutions, but rather that the decision-making structures are found to be legitimate even by a majority of the population.

In addition to these two major perspectives, which essentially shape the social debate about direct democracy, a third current is particularly visible in the right-wing extremist and right-wing populist spectrum. Although this also appears to be in favor of an expansion of direct democracy, it has strong Bonapartist traits and focuses primarily on person elections and referendum-like procedures with an acclamatory character. In this current, the direct election of prominent political offices, such as the Federal President , the Federal Chancellor or the Prime Minister (Germany) or the Governors (Austria) is called for. In addition, referenda are to be held, with which the directly elected incumbents can possibly have controversial projects decided directly by the electorate in the parliaments.

Arguments for direct democracy

  • In an election you have to give your vote to a single party, which means that you actually vote for every single one of its future decisions, which are usually not known at the time. This does not correspond to the basic democratic principle. It would then correspond to this principle if every citizen could name a party which exactly represents his opinion on all essential questions. Even the political intentions of parties known at the time of the election could plunge voters without direct democratic rights into major problems because they could only choose a package as a whole. (For example, a voter with a social democratic understanding of politics, but who is, for example, in favor of the use of nuclear energy. Such examples can be created for each party.)
The opponents of direct democracy believe that you can lose votes even in direct democracy and are therefore dissatisfied with some decisions. Furthermore, it is possible to found new parties if you are not satisfied enough with any of the existing ones.
  • In direct democracy, voters are not excluded from any political participation for four or five years.
  • The reasons for political decisions would have to be conveyed to the citizen, which would lead to greater satisfaction and greater participation of the citizens.
The opponents believe that the reasons for political decisions must also be shown in a representative democracy, since a mindlessly decisive government would theoretically be voted out or even replaced by a vote of no confidence.
The proponents respond that the vote of no confidence remains theory in almost all cases. In addition, it is a much greater effort personally and organizationally that the people themselves make the decision to vote out a government.
  • Bribery of leading representatives or the exploitation of personal relationships is less effective in direct democracy (or abuse of office is largely ruled out in some forms of direct democracy, e.g. qualified democracy that has not yet been established at federal level), because decisions are implausible could simply be lifted by the people.
  • In direct democracy it is more difficult for lobbyists ( lobbyism ) and interest groups to exert manipulative influence, be it legal or illegal. In a referendum, you have to win the majority of the people for your own interests instead of a few politicians in power. It is easier to get a handful of politicians on your side through generous financial bribery , but for the entire people this option is practically not feasible for the interest group because it is not economical.
Opponents believe that direct democracy is less about well-founded argumentation than about the eloquence and charisma of those who advocate one or the other decision. The television duel between Gerhard Schröder and Edmund Stoiber is often cited as an example (see TV duel ).
Proponents counter that this description applies precisely to representative democracy, but not to direct democracy. Only a person to be elected can have charisma and be eloquent, but a political decision cannot. In political discussions, the parties would not invest the largest part of their effort and expenditure in the processing and clarification of factual issues, but mainly aim at the emotions and stir up fears. The elected representatives would also only try to appear appealing and competent as a personality, for which often millions of euros in tax money would flow to advertising agencies.
  • The mutual blockade or cooperation possibilities of the Bundestag and Bundesrat are limited because of the possibility of referendums (see also: federalism reform ).
  • Direct democracy is the only guarantee that the official sovereign, i.e. the population, can influence the decision-making processes of the parliamentary government. Without them it would not be feasible that more than just the knowledge and interests of those officially responsible for them or those commercially interested in them would be involved in the formulation of draft laws. Particularly in view of the rapidly developing communication options, the possibility of systematic opinion-forming and direct democratic coordination should be considered in order to enable the participation of those sections of the population who are competent and interested in a topic in draft laws.

Arguments against direct democracy

The following arguments are put forward against direct democracy, especially in Germany:

  • The certainty of being able to correct Parliament's course at any time by means of a vote means that those entitled to vote do not necessarily determine the course through the elections. that is, they would vote differently than vote. This could weaken the interest in participating in a party as a member, in particular in the necessary democratic process of intra-party nominations and the quality assurance of the nominations by the parties.
However, it is countered, the interest in participating in the parties in Germany has been falling for years, although - and probably in many cases because - no direct democracy is granted.
  • What speaks against direct democracy is that it is slower and more expensive in decision-making than representative democracy , since there is an additional legislative step in referendums against laws.
Opposite position: In cases where parliaments postpone necessary decisions for years or decades, this disadvantage does not play a role. In Switzerland, after a new law was passed, citizens would have 100 days to trigger a referendum against this law by collecting a sufficient number of signatures. During these 100 days, a law generally does not come into force, so there is a delay. In addition, thanks to the Internet, votes could be held quickly, securely and more cheaply than ever before.
  • Another disadvantage is the dependence on the media . It has been shown that the media could influence public opinion strongly and quickly if they worked on a current topic in the form of a campaign . One example of this is the approval of the death penalty, which increases particularly when a sexual criminal is being reported.
The reply is that in all countries in which the death penalty is carried out, it has been introduced by the parliaments. In addition, the population of Switzerland is showing a greater interest in politics, perhaps precisely because they are allowed to (and have made) decisions on issues ranging from nuclear power to conscription. All interest groups are also allowed to express their point of view in the media.
  • In a direct democracy, the power lies largely with the media, which, however, often not only have the welfare of the population in mind.
However, according to my critics of this view, even the elected politicians in representative democracies often do not have the wellbeing of the population in mind, but rather one-sided special interests of powerful lobbies . Even in representative democracies, a large part of the power lies with the media, which are often also influenced by lobbies. On the other hand, they could put pressure on politicians with campaigns and thus play a major role in one way or another in votes and elections.
  • Direct democracy automatically leads to a devaluation of parliament and can promote populism and polemics .
However, according to critics of this view, there is no lack of populism and polemics in representative democracies either. In Switzerland it is often not even possible for polemic minorities to reach the quorum of signatures. If they do succeed in doing so, they almost invariably fail because of the electorate. The Swiss would not see a devaluation of parliament in referendums, but a limitation of its power. By referring to a decision on controversial questions, a lot of polemics are removed from politics and the election campaigns are less burdened with irritating topics. A comparison of Germany and Switzerland also shows that the German parliament is stopped more often by the German constitutional court than the Swiss parliament by the electorate.
  • It weakens the political parties and strengthens interest groups and special interests of all kinds.
However, according to the counter-opinion, it is far easier for interest groups and special interests to manipulate a handful of MPs in the relevant committee, to buy them or to fill them with people who represent their own interests than to win the majority of those interested in politics in a referendum. There are attempts to influence both systems. B. advertising campaigns by industry associations for referendums , in Germany z. B. appointment of politicians to lucrative directorships , consultancy contracts , party - and people donations, employment before and after the mandate without doing work.
  • Citizens often do not have the necessary expertise and the necessary emotional neutrality to deal with complex political problems.
The objection is made that this is often not the case with elected politicians. Proponents of direct democracy consider the argument that the people are politically too ignorant and immature for direct democracy, with reference to the positive experiences in Switzerland, for mere polemics. In addition, to become politicians, members of parliament and, above all, ministers of a specialist department, no special training or expertise is required, and often, according to proponents of direct democracy, cabinet ministers are appointed more on the basis of loyalty to the party line than on their competencies.
  • Questions about the financing of state activities often do not find a majority in the people because, like most additional tax burdens, they are borne by the majority.
On the other hand, the objection is that politicians, conversely, often find nothing in it, all possible organized interests and special interests, e.g. B. to be satisfied by subsidies and tax loopholes at the expense of the unorganized majority of taxpayers. In addition, the Swiss electorate has already approved the introduction of taxes ( HVF , VAT) and also approved their increase (VAT), which means that the people are not indiscriminate against taxes or financing, but want to have explained what the money is used for.
  • Some opponents of direct democracy admit that many of these disadvantages could be mitigated or even eliminated through appropriate procedural regulations, for example by excluding tax legislation from direct democratic decision-making.
Critics of this view believe that this ensures that what they consider to be carefree spending behavior of elected politicians, which is geared towards their own interests or those of strong lobbies, cannot be corrected by the people.
  • It is proposed that certain core areas of the constitution - in the Basic Law, for example, the principles of Articles 1 and 20 - could be given an eternity guarantee and thus remain withdrawn from populist access even by demagogues and extremist organizations.
It is critically noted that the parliament in Germany in particular has introduced new exceptions and restrictions to Articles 1–20 of the Basic Law in recent years (right of asylum, eavesdropping, video surveillance, etc.). In Switzerland, on the other hand, constitutional amendments (and thus also restrictions on fundamental rights) would have to be adopted by the majority of the people and the cantons (and possibly before the parliament).
  • In connection with procedures of direct democracy, two problems of democracy theory would arise. On the one hand, a law that came about through direct democracy, since it was passed directly by the sovereign, must have greater legitimacy than one passed by parliament; for example, it must not be repealed or watered down by a parliamentary resolution. You can use appropriate guarantees of existence z. B. set a fixed time limit or bind it to the duration of a parliamentary legislative period.
Such rules exist in Switzerland.
  • On the other hand, the implementation of referendums with the organization of public discussion and opinion-forming, the collection of signatures and the formulation and representation of the content of the request vis-à-vis the legislative and executive branches again requires a certain degree of organization, a group of representatives (e.g. popular initiative in Switzerland or referendum). Here, then, indirect representative democracy penetrates again into the realm of direct democracy. To make matters worse, the representatives of a corresponding popular initiative, unlike parliamentarians, are not democratically legitimized by election.
That will z. B. is not seen as a problem in Switzerland, the answer is given because the more or less organized formulators of a proposal and the signature collectors would not decide, but first the citizens who would sign or not, and then the majority of the people in the Poll. The Swiss government also has the option of formulating what it sees as a better alternative proposal. So they are not prevented from contributing their expertise.
  • Direct democracy would endanger minorities more than a purely representative democracy. In the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, for example, the right to vote and vote for women was only introduced in 1990 (see women's right to vote ).
Note: The right to vote for women was introduced in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden by a decision of the federal court (and against the result of a vote of a corresponding cantonal vote). This was possible because a clear majority of the people and the cantons had adopted a new provision in the constitution in a referendum in 1971, which implied the primacy of federal law over cantonal law on this point. When it comes to such fundamental questions, many advocates of direct democracy believe that decisions of such importance should always be made at the federal level.
However, women without voting rights are a bad example of oppressed minorities, having been an oppressed majority. The result of the vote in the canton is a direct consequence of the fact that over 50% of Appenzell residents had no right to democratic participation. Otherwise the majority could hardly have discriminated against themselves. Since women traditionally managed the family's money in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, due to the economic and historical circumstances of the textile industry, some believed that their participation was guaranteed in other ways.
  • In large territorial states with many citizens, direct democracy could be difficult to implement, since then all citizens would have to be guaranteed to participate in the numerous decisions.
However, if direct democracy is used at the local level, it is also possible in very large states (e.g. USA: California ). At the national level, referendums were used particularly successfully in Switzerland and Italy .
  • There would also be divisions within the people.
It is countered that there are also divisions within the people in purely parliamentary systems, e.g. B. between supporters and opponents of energy generation through nuclear fission. There is no difference in the issues at stake, only in the decision-making process. For example, the deep gulf that opened up in the population of Dresden as a result of a referendum on the Waldschlößchenbrücke carried out in 2005 speaks for a risk of division . The settlement of a political dispute, which the elected representatives of the people had not been able to resolve for several electoral terms, was not successful even through the plebiscite. On the contrary, the dispute among the residents over the issue deepened afterwards, and the Dresden bridge dispute was even carried to the federal level.


  • Silvano Moeckli: This is how direct democracy works. UVK, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-8252-5054-6 , online .
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  • Mario Martini : If the people (co) decide: interrelationships and lines of conflict between direct and indirect democracy in the legal system. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-428-13759-6 .
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Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Silvano Möckli : Direct Democracy - A comparison of the institutions and procedures in Switzerland and California, taking into account France, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Austria, Liechtenstein and Australia , Paul Haupt , Bern, Stuttgart, Vienna, 1994, ISBN 3-258-04937-8
  2. a b z. B. Contributions in the area of Direct Democracy & Citizen Participation of the Citizen Participation Network (since 2013)
  3. ↑ Combining direct democracy and citizen participation , Fabian Reidinger, AK Bürgerbeteiligung, Mehr Demokratie , November 11, 2017
  4. European Citizens 'Initiative: The ECI Campaign - for a European Citizens' Initiative that works! , on (en)
  5. referendums - Nationwide referendumplebiscite in the countriescitizen initiatives in local communities , in: Themes , Web of more democracy ,
  6. Meer Democratie Belgium, (nl, fr, en)
  7. Meer Democratie Netherlands, (nl, en)
  8. more democracy! Austria,
  9. Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe (iRi) , (en)
  10. ^ Andreas Kley : Political rights. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  11. ^ Andreas Gross : People's rights. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  12. a b c Democracy in daily practice in Switzerland: Basic elements, processes, connections - overview, practice, history, development , Vladimir Rott, Basis for discussion for more democracy , undated, with references to HLS
  13. ^ Silvano Moeckli : Political will formation. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  14. Hans-Urs Wili : Consultation procedure. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  15. ^ Pietro Morandi : Concordance Democracy. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  16. Europe and International, Democratization of the EU , in: Topics , on the web of Mehr Demokratie ,
  17. ^ Federalism / Strong municipalities , in: Topics , on the web of Mehr Demokratie ,
  18. Bonapartism is often cited as a historical example of the systematic abuse of referendums .
  19. ^ Randolph C. Head: Democracy in early modern Graubünden. Social order and political language in an alpine state . Ed .: Association for Bündner Kulturforschung. Chronos, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-0340-0529-6 , p. 1470-1620 .
  20. Chronology of the Swiss referendums
  21. Federal President Sommaruga: “We have a courageous democracy and I like that” ( Memento from June 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) , by Andreas Keizer, January 1, 2015 (for the President, see President (Switzerland) ).
  22. ↑ In 2013, the association Mehr Demokratie again published a list in which the different regulations of the federal states were compared with each other and ranked according to citizen friendliness, referendum ranking 2013 by Mehr Demokratie e. V.
  23. Data taken from the country overview of the citizens' initiative database ( Memento from January 27, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) of the Direct Democracy Research Center at the University of Marburg, as of April 25, 2011.
  24. See the manipulative ballot , in some cases the voting was done in disregard of the secret voting rights through open votes without voting booths.
  25. Constitution of the Principality of Liechtenstein in the Legal Information System of the Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein (LILEX)
  26. The FPÖ and the suddenly uncomfortable “people's will” , NZZ, February 22, 2018
  28. ^ "Healing through direct democracy" , Andreas Gross, FAZ, December 1, 2010.
  29. “Why nationwide referendums are dangerous” , Hannelore Crolly, Die Welt, July 31, 2010.
  30. ^ "Prammer: Expansion of direct democracy takes time" , Der Standard, November 5, 2012.
  31. ^ "Austrians want more direct democracy" , Wiener Zeitung, November 17, 2011.
  32. ^ A b Manfred G. Schmidt: Theories of Democracy . 3. Edition. UTB, 1995, ISBN 3-8252-1887-2 , pp. 355 .