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Government comes out against voting reforms

Ruth Metzler said the "constructive referendum" would undermine the consensus system Keystone

The government has urged voters not to support the initiative for a "constructive referendum", when the issue goes to a nationwide vote on September 24.

This content was published on August 31, 2000 - 18:56

Outlining the government's opposition to the proposal on Thursday, the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said it amounted to little more than a cosmetic change to a voting system, which was in need of wider reform.

The initiative calls for a new law to enable voters to accept or reject certain parts of a proposal in a nationwide ballot. Under the present system, voters have only the option of approving or turning down an entire initiative - an all-or-nothing approach.

Metzler said she understood that the proposal seemed appealing but that it was a quasi-democratic measure which would prove prohibitively complicated.

She said it would lead to the unravelling of Switzerland's tradition of compromise in politics, chiefly because parliament would find it impossible to agree on initiatives if there was a danger that only certain elements might be accepted.

She added that the cabinet believed direct democracy was not about tinkering with every aspect of the law whenever a vote was held. She said it needed a stronger foundation, built on consensus.

The supporters of the referendum say it would strengthen direct democracy in the country, and make the country more compatible with the EU.

The initiative for a "constructive referendum" was launched in the wake of a vote on revising the old-age pension scheme. Although that proposal was accepted, centre-left parties argued that many voted against it because they disagreed with the provision on extending the retirement age for women from 62 to 64.

Switzerland's system of direct democracy means voters not only elect their parliamentary representatives, but are also empowered to directly intervene in the democratic process.

They can do this in one of two ways: either by challenging parliament on a particular issue, or by putting forward their own proposal for a new law.

If the "constructive referendum" system was implemented, any citizen who collected 50,000 signatures could put forward a counter-proposal to a law adopted by parliament, after which both texts would have to be submitted to a vote.

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