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Direct Democracy in Switzerland: Depoliticisation Through the Referendum Practice

Democracy
Parliaments
Political Participation
Referendums and Initiatives
Representation
Adel Dellagi
Université Lyon II
Adel Dellagi
Université Lyon II
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Abstract

In the literature, several studies define depoliticisation as a transfer of public policies to autonomous entities (Kings Fund,Marcussen), as minimisation of the “political” (Ranciere,Habermas), or else as rationalisation (Burnhams,Manor). All agree on the fact that these procedures apply technical or legal means in order to keep the people away from debate or contestation. Thus, it seems that Switzerland does not fit into this framework since its people thoroughly use the referendum to participate into the national political decisions. However, none of the approaches previously cited consider the concept of depoliticisation as a new balance of power and not simply the absence of politicisation. According to Flinders&Bull, depoliticisation is a shift of power from one arena to another. In other words, they consider that there is an arena-shifting in the decision-making process translating the centre of power from one place to the other. According to the Swiss Federal Constitution, the upper political authority belongs to the people. Hence, there is a regular use of the popular initiative from the people to control the parliament powers. This bicephale power was a long-lasted compromised situation combining a moderate parliamentary action with a strong referendum-based intervention until early 80’s. Since then, the figure of popular initiatives sharply rose to reach a highest 105 from 1981 to date. With this significant increase of referendum use over the past 30 years, there is a new balance of power shifting the centre of decisions from the parliamentary sphere to the people’s arena. Recently, Swiss voters approved ban building of minarets, a crucial matter on freedom of religion taken away from the parliamentarian competences and whose outcome goes against any progressivist society in a liberal democracy. This tendency thus reshuffles the centre of power into the popular arena at the expenses of the legitimacy of the representative entity.