|Switzerland - too much democracy?|
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Anyone who does not believe that you can have too much democracy should be sent to Switzerland. Gather 100,000 signatures and you can put to vote a change in the constitution. If 50,000 citizens decide so, they can block any law passed by the Swiss Parliament and have the entire country vote on it. This works for small things too. Don’t like the new multimillion shopping mall project down the street? Any resident of the neighborhood can delay it for months with a simple letter explaining why it will lessen the quality of life.
But people are not crazy about the power the system gives them. With votes and polls taking place every two to three months on a vast number of municipal, cantonal and federal issues, voters get tired of their duties and the turnout is usually 30% or less. Perhaps there can be too much of a good thing after all?
The Swiss political system may be slow, but it is stable and efficient. For a constitutional change to be passed, both the majority of voters and that of the cantons are needed. In practice it means that a tiny canton the size of an Edelweiss (e.g. Uri, with 36,000 inhabitants) will weigh in a federal vote with as much clout as Zurich (1,181,000 inhabitants). As the smaller cantons are not the most liberal, the balance swings in favor of conservatism.
By balancing power among the regions in a very generous way, this system has kept Switzerland united for 150 years, preventing its many linguistic, religious and economic divisions from tearing the country to pieces.
For readers with an interest in political institutions, some places in Switzerland are worth a visit. In the small, scenic village of Gruyères (yes, home to the famous cheese), citizens gather twice a year in a communal assembly to vote by raising their hands on municipal issues. Or the picturesque canton of Appenzell, where until recently even cantonal issues were voted upon with raised hands by a general assembly of men, the Landsgemeinde.
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