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Interior Minister Berset Direct democracy as safeguard against extremism

Berset visited the annual Locarno film festival and gave an interview about direct democracy, Swiss-EU relations and the impact of Britain's vote to leave the 28-nation bloc 

(Keystone)

Interior Minister Alain Berset says citizens’ participation in politics has helped Switzerland to avoid an extreme polarisation of its society despite controversies ahead of nationwide votes.

“Our society is not split in two camps like in many other countries. This is thanks to federalism and to our direct democracy in particular,” Berset told the SonntagsBlick newspaper.

He says Swiss citizens know the rules of public debates and when they end. It also helps that votes take place several times during the year and it is not always the same side that wins.

However, Berset said many people have forgotten the importance of a people’s initiative.

“An initiative is not an opinion poll to express dissatisfaction. It is a political decision.”

Berset said the European Union could benefit from more direct democracy even if it might take a long time to learn how to use and refine the participatory political tools.

The first such rights in Switzerland were enshrined in the 1848 constitution, but reforms were only introduced after political crises in the late 19th century or after a general strike in 1919.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch


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