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Fourth World Eye Blog

The Power of Popular Initiatives

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Recession of the world economy, financial crisis and more bleak news are on everybody’s mind these days. There is a widespread feeling that important decisions and answers are completely out of our hands.
As a form of direct democracy more and more people in Europe are exploring popular initiatives. These initiatives provide the means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number (oftentimes about 10%) of registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed project, statute, constitutional amendment, or the like.
Popular initiatives yield powerful potential especially in Switzerland where they were included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1891. A citizen-proposed change to the constitution in Switzerland in October 2008 effected a national referendum to be held in the year 2009. The popular initiative “Yes to Complementary Medicine” requested a constitutional amendment. The aim is the inclusion of five complementary therapies, anthroposophic medicine, homeopathy, neural therapy, traditional Chinese medicine and phytotherapy in Switzerland’s basic healthcare provision amongst other requests. Proposed Art. 118a should strengthen the position of complementary medicine and protect natural remedies.

Likewise on a smaller scale in the city of Darmstadt, Germany, a popular initiative, ONO!, Darmstadt Ohne NordOst-"Umgehung, formed to have a referendum on a planned road project. Inhabitants of the city realize that state schools are in desolate conditions because of lack of funds despite Germany’s VAT being as high as 19%. In the recent past development and building projects that now appear to only serve a few were devouring lots of public funds. Therefore citizens are wondering whether decisions at the city council are taken in the best interest of all the inhabitants or whether maybe the majority due to different priorities might not be in favor of the expensive road project that has negative impacts on the environment and local people’s health. People want to be involved and have a direct say in this decision.
The referendum will be held next year. Meanwhile citizens will ask themselves simple but important questions such as what does life quality mean to us, do we need and want this, what are the alternatives?

The vast majority of national initiatives introduced do not receive voter support. What the current tendencies clearly speak of though is the heightened interest of people regarding questions that directly concern all of us. There should not be political apathy. Things do matter.

2 Comments

  1. You are correct that the important thing is for people to be involved, and initiatives are one way. Initiatives can generate interest that leads to independent research and education, community organizing and direct action.

    But initiatives, like any form of political tool, can also be manipulated by the rich and powerful for corrupt purposes. Sometimes misguided grassroots groups can even be stampeded into vengeful campaigns.

    The key to making initiatives beneficial, as with any political tactic, is to use them in ways that provoke thoughtful discussion rather than emotional reaction. To do that requires that some of the participants make it their task to keep an eye on the troublemakers, and to make sure they are thwarted in their efforts to disrupt a democratic process. An important role for those inclined toward investigative research.

  2. Voters on initiatives need what legislators get: public hearings, expert testimony, amendments, reports, etc., but independent of the legislature, as all branches of government work independently. The best project for such deliberative process is the National Initiative for Democracy, led by former Sen. Mike Gravel: http://Vote.org. Also http://healthydemocracyoregon.org/ and http://cirwa.org

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