A weakness of Swiss democracy

What happens if you have a strong opinion on an issue about to be voted on, but you aren’t allowed to vote? Soon to turn 18, Natalie Joray argues for better education about politics – and a lower voting age. 

This content was published on February 16, 2016 - 11:00
Natalie Joray

It's that time of the year again. Wherever you look, you see posters, with a big fat "yes" or "no" on them, wanting to win you over with exaggerated portrayals of what will happen if the initiative is accepted, or rejected, depending on the political stance of the poster’s creator. 

Compared with the politicians’ faces that resurface every four years ahead of general elections, this is usually more pleasant. No one staring or smiling at you trying to convince you to vote for them. 

But what can I do about the votes at the end of February? Absolutely nothing. Turning 18 only in March, I cannot vote. But the issues that will be voted on still concern me, can change my life for the better or the worse, give me rights, take rights away from me, can make my life more difficult, or easier. But I won’t have an impact on the outcome because I was born too late. 

The initiatives we will vote on this February - or the initiatives that eligible Swiss voters will vote on - can change Switzerland, and could set an example for other countries, or ruin the reputation of Switzerland. 

Natalie Joray is about to start studying international relations at the University of Geneva. Courtesy of Natalie Joray

The initiatives will change not only how we are perceived, and how we perceive things in the near future, but also have a long lasting impact on Switzerland.

Like the initiative to end tax discrimination of married couples. Since it will embed the definition of marriage as a bond between man and woman in the Swiss constitution, it could discriminate against LGBT+ people. 

Not granting a small minority of people the right to do something, or to choose to live how they want without having a negative impact on anyone else, is one of the weaknesses of democracy. 

A lack of education

Often, people don't read the text of initiatives in detail, but what political parties say about them in their campaigns. 

This can lead to large numbers of people voting against their own interests, influenced by the party with the best persuading skills, the most money available to plaster every lamppost with their propaganda, the most entertaining pamphlets or the most creative promotional gifts. 

This should not be the basis of Swiss democracy - nor any democracy. 

A lack of education in politics and the amount of time needed to understand an initiative in depth means voters cast their ballots without being well informed of the issues at stake. 

Politics is important. Talking about initiatives with other people, learning how to read an initiative and see if it is in their own interests or represents their opinion. Of course, it's a difficult subject since young people can be influenced easily by people with authority, like parents or teachers. 

Something definitely needs to be done to improve the situation. We do not receive enough education about politics, and this should change. 

Improving education would lead to young people being more interested and more aware of politics. The voting age could be lowered, which would make Switzerland a democracy where everyone was included, and not run by people just deciding about the future, but also by people who will have to live in this future.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 

Opinion series publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. The selection of articles presents a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

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