Democracy by Fiat

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Much has been written about the benefits and dangers of democracy. Some in Europe and the Americas fear that their democracy is under threat. Others say that is nonsense. Chinese leaders, meanwhile, view the US as a decadent democracy while celebrating their Communist Party-led version of the political philosophy. The European Parliament weighed into the debate recently when lawmakers declared that Hungary is no longer a democracy under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

In Switzerland, democracy arguably can be found in its purest form. Activists, for example, recently used the country’s referendum process to trigger a national vote on whether or not the Central European nation should spend $6.1 billion on new Lockheed Martin fighter jets, reported the Financial Times.

Some Swiss politicians believed the activists were abusing the system. But the activists received more than 100,000 signatures for their proposal, indicating their views are hardly marginal.

Critics of the fighter jet purchase said they are too expensive and would tie the neutral country too closely with the US, wrote the Associated Press. The deal’s defenders responded that they are abiding by a 2020 national referendum that called for the modernization of Switzerland’s military that passed by a slim margin. Stopping the deal now would present “grave consequences” for Swiss security, they argued.

The government was facing a pickle. Under Swiss law, officials must schedule a day for the referendum. But they were in the middle of negotiations with Lockheed. In the end, the government – this week – bypassed voters and signed a deal for the jets, with the activists backing down because they said the vote would now be a “farce,” Reuters reported.

The fact that Swiss lawmakers gave the government permission to buy the jets before the referendum took place clearly flies in the face of the democratic spirit of Swiss referendums, a risky move for any politician in a country where these types of votes are sacred.

Meanwhile, the Swiss will also vote on other matters on Sept. 25. As I am Expat explained, that imminent vote will decide whether taxes should be raised to bolster the country’s pension system for retirees and whether the retirement age for women should be raised by a year to 65 so that they are equal with men; whether to scrap a withholding tax designed to prevent tax evasion; and, lastly, whether to ban factory farming.

Polls suggested that the pension and retirement proposals would pass, the factory farming initiative was popular but losing ground to naysayers, while the withholding tax change was a toss-up, reported Reuters.

That’s a wide range of policies, from the military to the economy and ethics, that people seem just fine deciding for themselves.

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