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The Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy: The Swiss Way – A Direct Democracy Experience

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The Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy: The Swiss Way – A Direct Democracy Experience


On Wednesday the 21 September 2022 we took to Switzerland for our annual Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy hosted in Lucerne. With participants arriving from over 60 countries across the globe, the city of Lucerne was high in the spirit of democracy!

By Londeka Mgwaba

We kicked off our program at a central meeting point under the historical arch in front of the Lucerne train station, there we began the Global Forum Democracy Walk. This walk served as a welcome and introduction to the city of Lucerne, introducing the intriguing history and contemporary reality of modern democracy.

After participants enjoyed an Apéro Riche during registration at University Lucerne, we kicked off our opening evening with a warm welcome from Democracy International and the Swiss Democracy Foundation some of our main organizers. The evening ended with some keynotes from our speakers on how Democracy moves forward. Sevgil Musayeva who spoke on The Lessons from Ukraine and Robert Talisse who said that “a democratic ideal would be self-government, in the form of direct democracy, among people who regard one another as equals even though they disagree about politics“.


Switzerland as a hub of Direct Democracy.

With Switzerland's long standing Direct Democracy traditions, the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy took place during the official national voting week in Switzerland. In Switzerland Direct Democracy was introduced at a federal level as early as 1848. However, it has been used in some Swiss cantons since the fourteenth century. Today, a variety of direct democracy mechanisms are afforded at both federal and cantonal level. On an average of four times a year, Swiss voters are given the chance to cast their on federal ballots. Contemporarily, there are numerous direct democracy mechanisms that are used in Switzerland. These mechanisms include two comprehensive categories: referendums and initiatives.

The Swiss are responsible for directly electing their representatives through national elections that are held every four years, moreover Swiss citizens are also invited to vote on questions that they have proposed four times a year. These questions are made up of referendums as well as popular initiatives that are offered by the direct proposals of citizens. The Swiss electorate was gearing up for the vote on national, cantonal and local questions that was set to be on Sunday 25 September which would be the last day of the Global Forum. In the spirit of direct democracy, participants were invited to take part in the personalized 2022 Global Forum Ballot with a selection of this year´s real referendum questions. Global Forum participants were able to cast their votes throughout the duration of the forum at staffed info points. Anticipation grew as the votes came in throughout the forum and many eagerly awaited the results that would be presented on Sunday along-side the actual national, cantonal and local results.


Present and Future of Modern Democracy in Times of Multiple Global Crises.

We were excited to begin our first in person Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy discussion in three years! Our opening plenary on Thursday addressed the current challenges and the future options of modern representative democracy. Linda Sulzer, the Head of the Democracy Division at Mercator Switzerland Foundation, identified the climate crisis and the era of poly-crisis as one of the main threats to modern democracy. Amid the multiple crises we face as a global community, COVID-19 and the climate crisis are some of the deadliest in history. What these crisis's share is how their effects have implications for the entire global community at large. They are calling for democracy to prove itself as the best way to solve these problems. Participants then joined numerous breakout sessions of their choice to further engage and discuss topics that ranged from “Climate on the Ballot” right through to “What digital tools we need for a transnational democracy”.

We concluded with a networking evening that included a democracy fair and reception that set a relaxing tone to a jam packed and fruitful day.

In true Swiss tradition, Friday took to an early start. With our city tours lined up, soon the Historical Arch was bursting with enthusiastic Global Forum participants! Our tours were off to a host of different Swiss cities, these included Bern, Aarau, Uster and of course Lucerne. Each of these destinations included guided city tours, interactive workshops, and a lunch that was provided by the local host organizers. Participants enjoyed the various cities and everything they had to offer! This was evident in all the stories that were recounted, amongst many others, about the remarkable visit to the National Centre for Democracy in Aarau, the delicious Lebanese lunch served in Uster and the exceptional concert by the parliamentary band Fraktionszwang at the Democracy Tower in Bern which officially marked the end of our third day of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy.

Our wrap up plenary session started off our Saturday, the last official day of the Global Forum, on a high note! We discussed many essential topics and reached numerous important insights over the past couple of intense Global Forum days. When Daniel Schily, co-founder of Democracy International, was asked about what the role of Direct Democracy is in the future he declared that “it is important to representative parliamentary democracy, and if it is well- regulated, it can lead to an improved democratic society”.

We then had the 2022 Democracy City Summit hosted at the Lucerne City Hall Kornschütte. The City Summit aims to work towards an International League of Democracy Cities with new signatories added to the Magna Charta.

Sunday was a national voting day in Switzerland, eligible citizens headed to the polls to decide on local, cantonal and national issues that had been put forward. Meanwhile, the opening of the 2022 Global Forum Ballot Box and counting of votes took place at the European Public Sphere, Lucerne. The observation of the first projections and analysis of the results of the national, cantonal and municipal votes took place at the Marianischer Saal. We then concluded our 2022 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy with the results of the Global Forum participants’ vote which can be found here.

We are excited to invite to announce our next Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy 2023 to be hosted by our amazing partner The National Electoral Institute of Mexico that will be hosted in Mexico City, Mexico! To receive regular updates visit our website

Thank you to all our participants and we look forward to seeing all again soon!



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