The latest updates on Swiss and international democracy

We are living in a time of protest. From Minneapolis to Hong Kong and Budapest to Minsk, millions are on the streets. But not – as we reported in our last newsletter – to condemn ongoing restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

This week Ella Jones was elected mayor of the city of Ferguson, in the US state of Missouri – the first woman, and the first person of colour, to hold the job.

In 2014, the year a white police officer killed black Ferguson teenager Michael Brown – an event that led to confrontations similar to those currently raging in the US – political scientist Benjamin Barber published “If Mayors Ruled the World”, a book arguing that local leaders can offer a way forward to safeguard and strengthen global democracy.

Now, as heads of state and leaders like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Victor Orbán struggle to find sustainable solutions to their nations’ problems, can mayors across the world offer the kind of democratic leadership people are asking for in times of crisis?

  • If mayors ruled – a look back at late political scientist Benjamin Barber addressing the issue of pandemics, democracy and local leadership
  • Back to business – local leaders in Switzerland will also be legislating again soon after the government announced the end of the “emergency situation” for June 19
  • Time for a change? We ask a political scientist about the consequences for Swiss democracy after the lockdown


Keystone / Fabio Muzzi

Less violently, in many cities around the world, it’s not only mayors and protests that are back at center stage; the humble bicycle is also experiencing a renaissance.

Two years ago the United Nations designated June 3 as World Bicycle Day, which this year in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic saw more activity than ever before.

The surge, driven by fears of using public transport in times of an epidemic, has not appeared from nowhere: local citizens’ initiatives and referendums have been held around the world (in Switzerland even at the national level) on building the necessary infrastructure for possibly the most virus-resistant and climate-friendly mode of transport.

  • Pedal politics – our report on how Covid-19 has driven a cycling surge in Switzerland, and what this means for decision-makers and urban strategies
  • Voting for bikes – how bikes made it into the Swiss constitution thanks to a widely-accepted popular vote in 2018
  • World Bike Day – observed and celebrated by the United Nations on June 3, 2020


Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Another big issue that could potentially reinforce people power at the local level around the world is the lowering of the legal voting age.

Last week, a national commission in Norway proposed allowing 16-year-olds participate in local and regional popular votes in future, after a trial in twenty municipalities carried out over recent years.

On the transnational level of the European Union, meanwhile, the newly revised law on the European Citizens’ Initiative encourages member states to lower their voting age regulations. Some have already followed the advice, including Estonia and Malta; Austria has allowed young people to run for office and participate in political life for over a decade now.

  • Not in Switzerland? A recent initiative at the regional level to lower the voting age was rejected by voters in Neuchâtel; currently, two of 26 cantons allow 16-year-olds to vote
  • Voting at 16? A Swiss opinion about how lowering the voting age could rejuvenate democracy
  • The Norway case – read the report recently published by the government about the trials carried out on voting at 16 at the local level

Is there anything else you’d like to hear about from the world of direct democracy? Anything we missed? Get in touch with our correspondents Domhnall O’Sullivan or Bruno Kaufmann


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