Anyone who has the
right to vote in Switzerland can launch or sign a popular initiative to amend
the Constitution. For a vote to be held on a popular initiative, 100,000 valid signatures
must be collected within a period of 18 months.
initiatives were introduced at federal level in 1891.
226 have been voted on since then. 24 have been accepted.
As of 31
December 2021, 10 initiatives were at the
signature-gathering stage, 8 were pending
before the Federal Council or Parliament, and 2 were
ready to be put to a vote.
a decision made by Parliament to a vote (e.g. to stop a new law from passing),
anyone who has the right to vote can launch an optional referendum. To do so,
they must collect 50,000 valid signatures within 100 days. An optional
referendum is also held upon request by eight cantons (‘referendum requested by
optional referendum was introduced in 1874.
been held since then; 84 of the proposals
were rejected by voters.
As of 31
December 2021, the referendum period was running for 38 federal acts and decrees. Signatures were being gathered for a vote on 5 proposals.
Effects of initiatives and referendums
most initiatives fail and only very few laws are stopped by a referendum, these
two instruments can still have a major impact:
lead to public discussions on the topics they involve.
can influence legislation: groups that are likely to launch a referendum are
taken into consideration in the drafting of new laws.
Federal Council and Parliament will sometimes make counter-proposals to
initiatives, to address the initiative’s concerns in a different way.