Lately I have become aware that there is a tendency to assume that there is just one form of Democracy. At least that is the conclusion drawn listening to Bush. I think this is a very important topic, to realize that Democracy can have many faces. I also believe this is important for Americans. They have a great constitution, but the implementation of it at present is mildly said – challenged. My guess is that over the next two decades Americans will have to make adjustments to their stile of Democracy.
However, reading comments on different websites and following discussions I have observed, again and again, the following questions coming up: “What can we do?” and “How can we do it?” Thus my thought is that maybe it would be helpful, for the International participants of this website, to share how Democracy is handled in their own countries. Sort of a brainstorming, helping the Americans to become more familiar with other democratic systems, as this information seems to be difficult to access through the MSM. I would be interested too, as I have become aware, after reading a diary on dKos that actually I do not know that much about the British Democracy. I also would be interested to learn how democratic systems function in other countries. Well, I start with my own country – Switzerland. Following is an excerpt from a paper I had to write a couple of years ago, just the basics how the Swiss political system is structured:
First I would like to give a short introduction to the Swiss Political System. Switzerland’s political life is based on direct democracy. The Government is build upon a Parliament, consisting of a Nationalrat (House of Representatives) with 200 members and a Ständerat (Senators) with 46 members. They are elected proportionally, according to the percentage of votes their parties received. A unique feature is our Bundesrat, a collective of seven counselors elected from the members of parliament. Each year one of these counselors is President of Switzerland. There is no single person with a lot of power; the power on all levels is shared. The highest level is the sovereign – that is the people. Basically the people vote on everything. Certain laws, changes of tax system etc. have to be put to vote automatically. For others there has to be a referendum, initiated by a group of people, like a political party, the labor union or even private persons. Then there is the initiative – a tool with which the people can introduce laws or changes of laws. A certain number of signatures are needed for the referendums or the initiatives to be voted on.
In a way the Swiss system could be considered a grass root system and it is also a federal system. Is it the best? Heavens forbid – no. For many years I considered it archaic and smiled about it. But since observing the US over the last 4 years, I am starting to appreciate it more.
At times it is frustratingly slow – but then again, by the time it starts finally moving often the problem has already been solved. There is lots of talk, as the rule has to be by consensus on every level. Also the seven counselors have to find a consensus, not an easy feat considering that they often come from opposing parties; the Bundesrat is also build proportionally. So imagine wingnuts having to work together with liberals. And it works as we have learned not to long ago. Something over a year ago we had this wingnut called Mr. Blocher elbowing himself in to the Bundesrat to become a counselor, while pushing out one of the women. I was furious, as were most Swiss women. But in the meantime I must say that this was probably the best thing to happen. The system clipped his wings. By himself he can do nothing; he depends on the other 6 counselors. His roaring has become a whisper, and even his followers have become more subdued. So I have learned that this system has safe guards, which I really appreciate.
Then there is one more aspect I would like to share, another one I did not like until I was able to observe the elections in the US. In Switzerland and I think in many European countries, we have what is called the citizen registry. That is everyone living here is registered. It used to have a whiff of police state to me. However, in the meantime I also have become aware that this is strengthening for Democracy. We do not have to register to vote or for elections. Everyone who is registered and Swiss citizen is eligible to vote and can not be purged from the list. So about six weeks before a vote or election the information and documents for voting are mailed to everyone. Then they can be filled out and send back or you can hand in at a polling station.This happened for the first time and automatically after my 18th birthday and has continued since then. The votes are hand counted and if needed recounted. One of the civil duties you can be called for here is to count votes, like in the US you can be called as a juror. We vote here between two to five times per year, depending and how many referendums and initiatives are waiting. Voting and elections in this system is simple and easy.
This is an overview of how Democracy and government works in my country. I hope others from around the world will share how their countries handle it, maybe with their own diary, and I hope this will be an inspiration to the American readers.