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125 years of people's initiatives

The people's initiative, an essential political instrument of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, was introduced in 1891. We take a look back at its 125 years of history. (SRF,

As a key part of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, the people's, or citizen's initiative allows each member of the Swiss electorate – including those living abroad – to propose a change to the constitution.

An initiative can be launched by a single person, but more typically, an interest group collects at least 100,000 signatures. The signatures need to be collected over a period of 18 months, and must refer to a specifically worded proposal.  

After the signatures are validated by the Federal Chancellery, the question posed by the initiative is discussed by parliament. Parliament may then decide to recommend or reject the initiative, or it may propose an alternative. At this point, the initiative is submitted for a nationwide vote.

To get an initiative approved, it has to be accepted by a majority of voters and cantons. Since the popular initiative was instituted in 1891, there have been 22 initiatives approved, with an increase since the turn of the century.

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