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2005: a subdued year for direct democracy

Despite a relatively modest year in 2005, voting is still central to the Swiss way of life


Only two people's initiatives were launched in 2005 – the lowest number for 23 years. Of previously launched initiatives, only one made it to the polls.

The federation of trade unions and the fishing association both announced they were collecting signatures to force a vote. In comparison, nine initiatives were launched in 2004 and 19 in 1998.

The Swiss Fishing Association is calling for the renaturalisation of public lakes and rivers. Meanwhile the federation of trade unions is campaigning for the retirement age to be lowered to 62.

In November, a proposal for a five-year ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Swiss agriculture was accepted by 55.7 per cent of voters and all 26 cantons.

It was only the 15th people's initiative in modern Swiss history to be passed at the ballot box.

Also in 2005, four initiatives with the required 100,000 signatures were handed in to the government, two succeeded in getting the required signatures but haven't yet been handed in, and four fell at the first fence by failing to get enough signatures.

The initiative to decriminalise cannabis is set to be handed in to the government on January 13, 2006.

Slow work

Voting is central to the Swiss way of life. Any Swiss citizen can put forward a proposal to amend the constitution, but getting it to the ballot box is a glacial process.

If the citizen can collect and hand in to the Federal Chancellery 100,000 signatures in favour of the amendment within 18 months, this "people's initiative" must be put to a nationwide vote.

The cabinet then discusses the initiative and within one year must agree on a united position and a detailed message to present to parliament on the issue.

Parliament then discusses the initiative and recommends to the people and to the cantons whether it should be adopted or rejected.

The discussion in parliament must be completed no later than 30 months after the popular initiative has been submitted to the Federal Chancellery.

After the cabinet and parliament have discussed it, the initiative goes forward to a popular vote within nine months.

A people's initiative needs a majority of the popular vote as well as the backing of a majority of the country's 26 cantons to become law.

Referendum rejection

2005 was also a quiet year for referendums.

Laws which have been passed by parliament can be challenged by the public in a "referendum", for which 50,000 signatures must be gathered within 100 days of the publication of a decree.

Unlike a people's initiative, a referendum needs only a majority of popular votes.

Three referendums were launched in 2005 and four referendums which had been launched in 2004 made it to the polls. All four were rejected by the Swiss electorate.

These rejected referendums were against closer cooperation with the European Union over security and asylum (Schengen/Dublin), extending a labour accord with the European Union, same-sex partnerships and easing restrictions on Sunday shopping.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

It is the first time since 1982 that only two people's initiatives have been launched.
Nine initiatives were launched in 2004 and a record 19 in 1998.
The only people's initiative to be voted on in 2005 concerned a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Swiss agriculture.
This was accepted – only the 15th people's initiative in modern Swiss history to be so.

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