Online platform aims to boost local citizen participation

Eight local newspapers in northern Switzerland commit themselves to give a boost to direct democracy at a local level dpa

A special online platform has been launched to promote political petitions in a bid to increase local citizen participation. The scheme is aimed at the collection of signatures and enjoys support from the media.

This content was published on December 17, 2016 - 13:00
Sonia Fenazzi and Urs Geiser,

Eight small local newspapers in German-speaking Switzerland started a digital tool, petitio.chExternal link at the beginning of this month, which encourages citizens to have a greater say in local decisions.

Anyone who is pushing for specific changes in their local town or his municipality can use the platform and try to build up support from others, according to the AZ Medien group.

Once a petition has collected enough signatures, it is sent to the local authorities with a formal letter.

The platform, which is part of the Digital News Initiative by the American technology giant Google, involves the local media.

It covers a broad area between two of Switzerland’s biggest cities, Zurich and Basel, and spans almost a fifth of Switzerland’s 2,300 municipalities.

The project authors say the local media will assist the petitioners to collect the signatures – the necessary numbers varying from one municipality to the next.

Each petition can be signed by supporters within 30 days of its launch in order to get an official response by the local authorities.

Wealth of proposals

In the first week of the launch of the platform, nearly 40 petitions were started on a wide range of issues.

They include a call for more public benches in the town of Brugg, more attractive playgrounds in a suburb of Solothurn or the survival of an intercultural library in Olten.

Other proposals are aimed at reducing road traffic, installing a free wireless network on a local train line as well as the closure of monthly open-air market and the abolition of civil servant status.

In Aarau, petitioners successfully started collecting signatures for extended opening hours of late-night bars and clubs.

Political experts say it is too early to say whether the new tool for e-democracy is here to stay or if it might have a potential negative impact.

Petitions have been a regular political instrument also at a national level, often used by pressure groups. However, they are not binding and do not lead to public votes as is the case with people’s initiatives or referendums challenging a parliamentary decision.

Is the use of digital tools a boon or a bane for Switzerland's system of direct democracy? Let us know what you think.

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