Are specialists and judges undermining the Swiss system of direct democracy? The growing influence of legal opinions risks making the task of local politicians difficult and unattractive.
“An increasing number of political decisions are contested for legal reasons. Be it because people’s initiatives are declared invalid before a vote or because ballot box decisions are challenged,” says Andreas Glaser of the Centre for Democracy Studies.
Glaser says the trend is particularly significant for local ballots as citizens can decide details with an immediate impact on everyday life, unlike nationwide initiatives which, as a rule, focus on more basic issues.
The situation isn’t made any easier by the fact that members of local governments are often part-time politicians with limited legal expertise.
Local politicians may find it too much of a burden if they spend their time poring over legal issues, Glaser warns. He adds that participation in local ballots and town hall meetings might become unattractive if decisions are challenged legally.
The case of the village of Amden in eastern Switzerland at the beginning of this year is a typical example. A citizens’ group and the local rightwing Swiss People’s Party collected enough signatures to block plans to open a centre for asylum seekers.
But the local council declared the initiative invalid based on legal expertise.
What can be done to limit the role of judges and experts in politics? Read Sibilla Bondolfi’s report initially published by swissinfo.ch in German.
This text is part of #DearDemocracy, swissinfo.ch's online platform of about direct democracy.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch