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A Comparative Analysis Between Direct Democracy In Switzerland And Indirect Democracy In India

Democracy... a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike- Plato

According to David Held democracy is defined as-Democracy means a form of government in which, in contradistinction monarchies and aristocracies, the people rule. Democracy entails a political community in which there is some form of political equality among the people[1].

A democratic system provides the people with the ability to participate in the decision-making process and take their views into consideration before passing any bill, laws, plans for them, this is a powerful tool which protects the country from dictatorship. The existence of democracy depends on the nature of the Constitution which the country follows.

From the view of the formation of the government, there are two kinds of democracy:
  • Pure or Direct Form of Democracy: In this form of democracy all the people of majority, who are present in the assembly, take part in decision making and exercise their power as the citizens of that country. Here there is no delegation of powers to other people or representatives. In history, Ancient Greek was the country who had direct democracy but now in Modern times, some cantons of Switzerland have this direct popular assembly known as ‘Landsgemiende'[2]. Under Direct Democracy, there are following devices which are being followed:-
    a. Referendum
    b. Initiative
    c. Recall
  • Indirect Democracy: Indirect Democracy or Representative Democracy is the most widely used form of governance, here people instead of directly taking the part in the government, so elect a representative that such representative would take part in the governance, this Representative is elected by the people. The main object behind this kind is that as the crores of people from a country cannot go to the assembly and make laws for the country[3].

Under this type, there are various forms which are as follows:
  1. Parliamentary or Cabinet Form
  2. Presidential Form
  3. Unitary Form
  4. Federal Form
  5. Mixed or Hybrid form
Other than Switzerland most of the countries follow this Indirect Form of democracy where India is a country which follows the Hybrid form of Indirect Democracy.

Direct Democracy In Switzerland
It is the Surest means of discovering the wishes of the people and an excellent barometer of the political atmosphere.-Bonjour

Switzerland is the only country in this world which follows direct democracy. In many countries the other form that is the indirect form or the representative form of democracy is followed, in this direct democracy, the decisions are directly taken by the citizens of Swiss. Switzerland is a federative state with 26 cantons (individual constituent states) and around 2,740 communes[4]. Swiss voters have the right to cast their votes at the federal, cantonal and local levels[5].

The people here mainly use the most well-known form of devices that is the Referendum and Initiatives take part in the legislation of their country. On average, four times a year there are referendums at all three levels[6]. According to the Swiss legislature, in the words of Andre, in Switzerland, democracy remains direct and in delegating their powers to Swiss people do not abdicate them. They always reserve the right to have the last word by Referendum and perhaps the first word too by means of the popular Initiative procedure.[7]

Following are the devices of Direct Democracy:
A. Referendum: Referendum means refer to people. It gives the people a direct vote, which may be binding or advisory, on a specific political, constitutional, legislative issue that is referred to them by governing institutions.[8] It is an instrument of negative action. It rectifies the acts of the commission of the legislature by enabling the electorates to approve or reject a legislative measure proposed or already passed by the legislature.

There are two kinds of the referendum- Optional and Obligatory:
  1. In the case of Obligatory Referendum, the laws passed by the legislature do not become laws until and unless the same has been approved by the people[9].
  2. In an Optional Referendum, the bills are referred to the people if a demand is made for that purpose by a specified number of votes.[10]
B. The Popular Initiative: It is a popular device to rectify the acts of omission of the legislature. It was introduced in Switzerland in 1892. The Federal Council (government) and the two Chambers of Parliament then gave propositions whether to accept or to reject the popular initiative. If they are opposed to the proposition, they can put forward a counter-project but are not allowed to change the wording of the popular initiative. The popular initiative has to get a majority of the voting people and of the Cantons (the majority of each canton counting as one vote) to become part of the revised constitution[11].

Agenda initiatives: They are procedures by which citizens can organize to place a particular issue on the agenda of a parliament or legislative assembly. As with citizens' initiatives, a minimum number of signatures is generally specified by law in order for the initiative to be brought forward to the legislature.[12] Unlike the procedure followed for citizens' initiatives, no popular vote takes place when an agenda initiative is brought forward. The use of agenda initiatives at both the national and the sub-national level in a number of different countries, as well as proposed procedures for the use of agenda initiatives at the transnational level.

C. Recall procedures: They allow the electorate to vote on whether to end the term of office of an elected official if enough signatures in support of a recall vote are collected. Although the process of recall is often similar to that of citizens' initiatives, recall deals only with the question of removal of a person from public office, and the outcome is therefore always binding.

Arguments For Direct Democracy:
To promote participation: There is increasing and meaningful participation by the public in the process of decision making related to public concerns and motivating citizens to take care of public good. It has been argued that the mere act of selecting the representatives provides insufficient engagement in political decision-making to develop the qualities of good citizenship. Direct participation helps citizens to get engage in public life.

Sovereignty: It enables the people the right of the citizens to decide the issues of fundamental importance directly and authoritatively.

Low Manipulation: Direct democracy procedures are rarely subject to manipulations as they are a long-term process. Unlike authoritarian regimes which use quick plebiscites to legitimize the power of the president, direct democracy supposes both a basic common interest and a constructive organization of civil society. If the initiators want to succeed, they have to convince a majority of citizens; then the equation between the protection of minorities and the rule of the majority is maintained.

Solving Social Conflicts: Direct democracy procedures can solve social conflicts. The creation of the twenty-sixth canton of Switzerland (Jura) was possible thanks to direct democracy. The referendum of June 23, 1974, avoided a national separation.

Educating the people about Political Culture: Direct democracy is a part of the political education of citizens. The involvement of the incompetent citizen is an argument used against direct democracy procedures which are characterized as simplifying some political problems. In fact, direct does not mean simple or fulfilment of immediate wish but a closer relation between citizens and political topics. The complexity of the procedures allows citizens to organize themselves and learn much from the political culture of their country.

Reduces lobbying Expenses: Direct democracy is not governed by the media. The media, including the newspapers, can help citizens to have a clear idea about a referendum question. Direct democracy is not inexpensive, but it may help to avoid huge lobbying expenses.

Arguments Against Direct Democracy:
  • Citizens Information and Competence: In direct democracy, citizens require high-level knowledge of issues that are complex in nature. In this kind there is a certain instance where people don't have much knowledge and skills to make decisions, sometimes low knowledge leads to a wrong decision.
  • Voter should be informed about the issues: In countries with less population like- Switzerland, the voters should be correctly informed about the issues, its impact on the society, here the people or voters of the country should be well aware before they give their valuable votes, wrong or misleading information would affect the country at large. The minorities from the population should be given great importance for the development of the country.
  • High level of Public Participation: The total population of cantons of Glarus in Switzerland is 40,000 people as of December 2017. When 6,000 people hold their parliamentary debate and issue votes, thus the 15% participation rate was achieved.[13] But if there are situations where the participation is not high the policy would not be implemented then to its good for the nation.
  • The Unstable Government: If a country has huge population, the views of each person would be difficult to consider in the formation of any law or provision. Thus, the dissenting opinions of people will lead to increasing quarrels and at last will form an unstable government with poor administration and management.
  • Loss of Public Participation: If the participating people find that their views are not given due importance, their interests for the development of the country would hamper and thus it would lead to loss of public participation in future events.

Indirect Democracy In India
One Person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.-John Stuart Mill

Indirect or Representative democracy, it is a type of democracy where the representative is elected who would be working on the behalf of people by whom he is elected. To determine the representative regular elections are held, where the representatives try to put forth in front of the people that if they get elected what all issues they will try to solve.

Most of the countries follow the indirect democracy but it varies with several forms like- the United Kingdom is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, France is a unitary semi-presidential republic, the United States is a federal presidential republic and India follows the Hybrid form of Indirect Democracy.

In Indirect Democracy, that is it has the two chambers of government that is Lower chamber is Lok Sabha and the Upper Chamber is Rajya Sabha in India. Representative Democracy is typically employed in larger countries, where the population is higher.

Basic Features of Indirect Democracy:
  • Universal Participation: In this kind of democracy there is indirect participation of citizens, thus there is universal participation in terms of ‘people's views.
  • High Political Competition: Here as the political parties want to get the highest number of votes such that they would be represented in the parliamentary houses, the ruling party has the highest power in this kind of democracy.
  • Rule of law: One of the most primary features of this kind of democracy is to have ‘Equal protection of law and equality before the law'. Without rule of law indirect democracy is not possible as it provides equal rights to each and every citizen.
  • Transparency in Government- It is accepted that when elections are conducted by Election Commission in India and thus the representative chosen would be responsible for the election of the Prime Minister. Therefore, there will be transparency in the working of the government.

Pros to Indirect Democracy:
  • This kind of democracy allows the government to act on what majority people want, instead of government practising their own views, they take into account the views of representatives to constitute for any policy.
  • It gives opportunities to the representatives to make their stand on any topic though the votes are in minority instead of the majority they are able to make their stand clear.
  • The best part about the representative democracy is they can have the checks and balances of each branch of government such that it is seen that no branch has excessive power over the other branch.

Cons to Indirect Democracy
  • This form of government leads to increase in deception as the people has the power to elect their representative till the voting process, but once the representatives are elected they are free to follow their own agendas and later it becomes difficult to control the functioning of that representatives during their tenure.
  • This is a costly form of government where millions are spent by the candidates to attract people and cast their votes to them, during the election process lots of money is spent in this form.
  • The majority or winning party rules the nation, thus the party having maximum votes have their own policies, own decisions and their own rules these sometimes could be unethical to the society.
  • This form of democracy leads to loss of participation, once the people find that the candidate who is going to participate in the election is not having the said interests which the people want then the people don't participate in the voting process.

Which democracy has the best usage in the present time?
Each democracy has its own pros and cons. Democracies give excessive power to the people in determining or implementing any policies/ rules/ regulations. Thus, one can see that Representative democracy is more prevalent in today's world because of the following reasons:
  • The Countries like- India, the United States, where the population is huge it won't be possible to follow direct democracy and to take everyone's views into account.
  • Representative Democracy is also more prevalent because it is not possible that in every country the population is literate to understand various issues and taking reasonable decisions for the betterment of public at large. If any representative is appointed who have great knowledge it would be better for the public to have a great leader who would aim for public welfare.
  • Representative democracy reduces a lot of work as the elected government does the work of framing the laws for a specific period of time but in case of direct democracy, the legislation works according to the will of the people and cannot oppose the people at any cost even if it is arbitrary.
  • Though Elections happens once in 4 years it is very important to the public to understand the positive side of the implementation of their policies which would be a reasonable time to see the effects of any policy which would be only possible in Representative democracy.
  • Representative democracy provides more time to political actions to have any law in motion, but as if in direct democracy fast decisions are taken it would lead to the creation of misunderstanding in public and lastly at increasing quarrels.
  • Representative democracy helps to create long term effects and lastly aims at long term betterment in society[14].
Thus, taking these views into account one can understand that Representative democracy fits in any type of country irrespective of any kind of population.

The origin of Democracy has its deep roots in the functioning of the government in Athens in Greece, where this concept slowly spread all over the world and made an impact that the people form the basis of the functioning of the government, with gradual progress there was the formation of two forms of democracy that is Direct and Indirect or the Representative democracy. As Democracy is recognised as the best political system, its ultimate aim should be For the People, By the People and Of the People. Democracy is recognised as the tool for the decision making in governance, it gives the ability to the people to participate either directly or representatively to give their decisions on any plans, laws, rules made by the government without any external or psychological pressure.

Direct democracy means where the people from the country have control over the legislative power of the government. This kind of democracy is most suitable where the population is low and most of the people are literate to give their decisions in its functioning in case of Switzerland, people vote four times a year about all kinds of subjects and at different levels (communal, cantonal and state).

We could say that there is a vote culture, but it also implies that voters may experience fatigue instead of the enthusiasm others would feel in a country where referenda are occasional. Participation may increase in the short-term (or on one-time turnout), but Switzerland shows us that participation is not obvious. If direct democracy is seen as an inclusive instrument, it can also be limited by the recurrent abstention of some citizens and therefore weakens the acceptability of the outcome.[15]

In the case of Representative democracy were the people from the country elects their representative who on their behalf will perform the task of lawmaking. Therefore, we can see that there are certain similarities and differences in each of these forms: indirect form full power is given to the people whereas in the indirect form the people have full power to elect their representatives to perform the task of lawmaking.

Thus, indirect democracy is much prevalent and preferable in today's world and there are many countries like the USA, India etc. practising indirect democracy in a very satisfactory manner whereas there are few countries which have a direct democracy like in Switzerland. Although direct democracy is very efficiently working in Switzerland, it is a well-known fact that it can't be implemented in nations with big populations.

  • The illiterate people of India should be provided with proper education so that they can be aware to vote the right leaders, the countries like- the USA, Britain are successful countries, they have progressed in every phase because the masses are literate.
  • The media should play an important role in imparting true knowledge of the representatives, instead of gaining more TRP.
  • The citizens should elect the right leaders with good moral values and integrity.
  • People should not follow communalism, separatism, casteism or racial discrimination which forms a threat to democracy.
  • People should be mentored to choose the right representatives. They should not be influenced by anyone in this respect.


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