from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A plebiscite (from Latin plebiscitum 'people's decision', from plebs (genitive plebis ) 'simple people' and scitum 'decision') is:

The term plebiscite encompasses all forms of voting, regardless of

  • who initiated this (population, parliament, government),
  • whether it is binding or merely recommended,
  • what the vote refers to (constitution, law or administrative act),
  • or at which political level (municipality, member state, federal state, supranational) it takes place.

The plebiscite is therefore a generic term covering all forms of referendums, plebiscites , referendums , referendums , plebiscites covers and similar instruments more. Popular initiatives , ( motions for ) plebiscites and citizens' initiatives can also be counted among the plebiscitary elements. If a plebiscite in a binding form results in the resolution of a law or constitutional article, it is part of the people's legislation of a state.

The constitution of most representative democracies contains plebiscitary elements. However, the characteristics and significance for the respective state vary enormously. While referendums are an integral part of the state in Switzerland, they do not play a special role in everyday political life in other countries.

Also, the law knows plebiscites. There they mostly come into effect as referendums on the territorial affiliation of a certain area.

Different forms of plebiscite

A distinction is made between consultative and decisive plebiscites. A consultative plebiscite gives a picture of the mood of the electorate, but this has no binding effect. The decision of a decisive plebiscite, on the other hand, has binding effect and results in an actual political decision. Examples of purely consultative plebiscites are public polls or a consultative referendum, in which the parliament or government is free to implement the result of the vote. A referendum, the result of which must be followed in any case, is a decisive plebiscite.

A similar distinction is made between optional and mandatory plebiscites. Optional plebiscites are votes that can be used in addition to the already existing forms of democratic decision-making (e.g. the vote on the Treaty of Lisbon in France from 2005), while mandatory plebiscites must be carried out in any case (e.g. the votes on the Treaty of Lisbon in Ireland from 2008 and 2009).

History of the plebiscite

The linguistic and historical model for the modern plebiscite comes from the Roman Republic . There was a plebiscite ( Latin plebis scitum , "decision of the non-noble people"), a law that was passed in the concilium plebis at the request of a tribune ( rogatio ): "Plebiscitum est quod plebs plebeio magistratu interrogante, veluti tribuno, constituebat". ( Institutiones Gai 1,2,4). "Accordingly," Gaius later stated, "the patricians declared that they were not bound by plebiscites because they came about without their consent ( sine auctoritate eorum )." After the Lex Hortensia ( 287 BC ) had ensured that plebiscites had the force of law and would bind the entire Roman people, including the nobility , they had the same force as the leges and were thus on an equal footing with the decisions made in the previous legislative process.

When the assembly-giving events of the Comitia tributa were placed on the same level as the Comitia Centuriata , the concept of the lex expanded to include plebiscites. Lex became a general legal term, sometimes with special terms like lex plebeivescitum , lex sive plebiscitum est , in order to clarify the plebiscitary origin if necessary.

In his enumeration of the Roman sources of law, Cicero no longer mentions plebiscites, which he undoubtedly subsumes under the leges . Many plebiscites are then cited as leges, such as the Lex Falcidia and Lex Aquilia. On the tablets of Heraclea , the words lege plebivescito appear to denote the same ordinance, and in the Lex Rubria there is the phrase ex lege Rubria sive id plebiscitum est .

Plebiscites in German-speaking countries


In Germany , according to Article 20 of the Basic Law (GG), the people exercise their power through elections and votes. In contrast to elections, however, the associated laws and regulations are missing for voting.

Article 76, which describes the legislative procedure , has no direct participation by the people. In addition, the Basic Law only provides for votes for a reorganization of the federal territory . There is another mention in Article 146, which stipulates the end of the validity of the Basic Law in the event of a constitution passed by the people. Conversely , the Federal Constitutional Court interpreted this to mean that only votes on this topic are permitted at the federal level. The addition of the five states of the former German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic was not viewed as a reorganization of the federal territory. It therefore happened without a corresponding vote. The plebiscite in Germany is therefore practically insignificant for everyday federal politics.

In the past there have been several attempts by parties to amend the Basic Law in such a way that votes on general issues are possible at the federal level. However, these did not receive the two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments. A joint application by the SPD and Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen only just failed in 2002 with 63.4% approval.

In state and municipal governments are in the form of popular initiatives , petition , referenda , Bürgerbegehren and Bürgerentscheid a plurality of elements generally available plebiscitarian. However, their use and significance differ greatly. More petitions and referendums take place in Bavaria than in the entire rest of Germany combined. In Saarland, on the other hand, the regulations are so restrictive that plebiscites are practically not applied.


The Republic of Austria has been a series of reforms in the early 1970s a number of plebiscitary elements. Even if these are rarely used, they have had some influence on state politics.

With a referendum , the National Council can submit a question to the population for a binding decision, i.e. hold an optional and decisive plebiscite. This was used in 1978 for the vote on the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant and in 1994 on the question of Austria's accession to the European Union .

With the instrument of the referendum , a question can be presented to the electorate for discussion, i.e. in an optional and consultative plebiscite. This option has only been used once in Austria (see referendum on compulsory military service in Austria 2013 ).

The Austrian referendum is a plebiscitary element that allows citizens to bring a question to the National Council for discussion and voting.


In Switzerland the term plebiscite is practically unknown. Only experts call (in their circles) thus referenda that no general constitutional basis, since they take place in an exceptional situation - such as regional and municipal polls in the Jura question 1974-89 of the Jurassic part of the Canton of Bern .

As a “semi-direct” democracy , Switzerland is the country with the most developed direct democratic political rights in the world. The main tools here are:

In addition, non-binding or consultative instruments such as petitions and the Volksmotion in some cantons , which are only rarely used because they have lost their significance with the expansion of political rights .

See also


  • Otmar Jung: Basic Law and referendum. Reasons and scope of the decisions of the Parliamentary Council against forms of direct democracy. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1994, ISBN 3-531-12638-5 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Plebiscite  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Livy 8:12; Aulus Gellius 15:27).
  2. Gaius, 2,227.
  3. ^ Cicero, pro Tullio, November 8.
  4. ^ Friedrich Carl von Savigny , in: Journal for historical jurisprudence , ed. by Karl Friedrich Eichhorn , Johann Friedrich Ludwig Göschen and Friedrich Carl von Savigny , Volume 11 p. 355.
  5. Hans-Jürgen Papier and Christoph Krönke, Basic Course in Public Law, Volume 1 , p. 88.
  6. ^ Peter Gilg : Votes. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . July 28, 2016 , accessed June 5, 2019 .