This
month’s world-wide run of elections has displayed a number of ways in
which other democracies differ from Australia. Most of them have some
form of proportional representation, ensuring that a minority of votes
doesn’t translate into a majority of seats. Most of them have two rival
centre-right parties, giving voters a choice between liberals and
conservatives. And, as pointed out last week, almost all of them have
optional voting, so citizens can choose whether or not to show up at
the polling booths at all.

Yesterday Switzerland demonstrated another democratic feature we could think about copying: the referendum. As the BBC
reports, 56% of Swiss voters agreed to allow citizens of the ten new EU
member nations, mostly in eastern Europe, to live and work in
Switzerland.

Switzerland, not an EU member but surrounded by
countries that are, already has agreements with the other 15 EU members
to allow free movement of people between them. The government proposed
to extend this to the new members as a routine matter, but Eurosceptics
of the far right and left combined to petition for a referendum on the
issue. As Le Monde pointed out, Switzerland, a non-member, ironically became the only country asked to vote on the expansion of the Union.

Readers
will remember how earlier this year, in France and the Netherlands, the
voters, denied the opportunity to vote on expansion, took out their
anger by voting down the new EU constitution. The Swiss, however, were
not swayed by fears of their jobs being taken by Polish plumbers and
other such imports. Countries that trust their voters to make decisions
find that they get it right most of the time; extremism flourishes
where that trust is absent.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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