How a "people's initiative" differs from a "referendum"

Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, amendments to the constitution and challenges to new laws must be put to a nationwide vote.

This content was published on February 7, 2003 - 18:35

These votes are usually held four times year on a Sunday.

Any Swiss citizen or organisation can put forward a proposal to amend the constitution. The proposal must be put to a nationwide vote if the citizen can collect at least 100,000 signatures in favour of the amendment within a period of 18 months.

If the government is opposed to a proposal, it can put forward a counter-proposal. "People's initiatives" are put forward by citizens or groups and not by the government or parliament.

A "People's initiative" needs a majority of the popular vote as well as the backing of a majority of cantons to be successful (ie, to win enough support to become law).

Laws which have been passed by parliament can be challenged by the public in a "referendum".

For a referendum to take place, at least 50,000 signatures must be gathered within 100 days of the publication of a decree. In a nationwide vote, a referendum needs only a majority of votes. Unlike a people's initiative, a majority of cantons does not matter for referenda.

In short: "People's initiatives" are put forward by citizens wanting to amend the constitution; "referenda" come about as the result of a challenge to a law.

swissinfo, Jonas Hughes

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