Randomly selected citizens as legislators

14. September 2022
Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat

In the Swiss canton of Vaud, a randomly selected Citizens' Chamber is proposed to be created with the help of a popular initiative. The special thing about it is that the chamber should also be able to pass laws. The initiative aims to amend the cantonal constitution accordingly.

The organisation AG!SSONS (French for "Let's act!") justifies its initiative with what it sees as deficits in representative democracy. "Currently, decision-making power operates within a distorted political system. We note that the representative vote is not equal, as it favours certain social groups and marginalises others," it says on the AG!SSONS website.

Parliament blocked on certain issues

The need to be re-elected triggers fear of debate and leads to the avoidance of certain sensitive issues. "Elected politicians themselves admit that the parliament is 'blocked' on certain issues," explains the democracy initiative.

AG!ISSONS proposes that each Citizens' Chamber be composed of 200 randomly selected people to represent a cross-section of the population. The chamber should deal intensively with the issue at hand, listening to the arguments of various interest groups and experts. This would produce recommendations of high quality.

75 per cent approval for binding decision

"If a proposal is approved by at least 75 per cent of the chamber, it will result in a legal text with decision-making effect, which has to be implemented by the authorities," AG!SSONS proposes. A Legal Secretariat is to draft the laws, which in turn must be confirmed by the Citizens' Chamber. The government, parliament and citizens of the canton of Vaud would be allowed to propose amendments to the draft law.

A Citizens' Senate with 150 members - composed of former members of the citizens' chamber - would be required to select two topics every six months, which the citizens' chamber would then deal with. The members of this senate would be released from their work and would be reimbursed for all their expenses. Citizens should also be able to convene a Citizens' Chamber with at least 10,000 signatures. It would also be possible for several citizens' chambers to meet at the same time, each dealing with a specific issue.

Parliament can amend Citizens' Chamber act

The Grand Council, as the cantonal parliament, could amend a law passed by a Citizens' Chamber. However, the parliament's vote on it would have to be cleared by the Citizens' Senate. This would require a majority of at least 75 per cent of the Citizens' Senate members participating in the vote on it. This regulation should lead to a public debate on the amendment. With a referendum or a popular initiative, the people would also have an opportunity to reverse decisions of the Citizens' Chamber.

A Council for Rules and Procedures would oversee the quality of the Citizens' Chamber's work. This council would be composed of impartial and independent experts who would serve for four years. Members of the experts council would be removable at any time by a majority vote of the Citizens' Senate. The council also examines the issues proposed for the Citizens' Chamber and confirms them if they are legally admissible. In the event of rejection, an appeal can be lodged with the Citizens' Senate. A Coordination Office for Deliberative Democracy serves to prepare and conduct the meetings of the Citizens' Chamber and Citizens' Senate.

Autonomous body

The Citizens' Chamber and its auxiliary bodies are autonomous in matters of organisation, administration and finance, according to the AG!SSONS proposal. "The Grand Council shall provide for an adequate budget to ensure the effective functioning of the Citizens' Chamber and its subsidiary bodies. The proposal for the annual budget is calculated by the Coordination Office for Deliberative Democracy," the People's Initiative proposal states.

"This decision-making system leads out of political polarisation, brings the population together and leads to decisions that serve the common good," AG!SSONS said. The sortition procedure ensures that the diversity of the population is represented and that everyone has an equal chance to participate. This creates trust. Citizens would be put at the centre of the decision-making process.

12,000 signatures needed

The collection of signatures for the popular initiative is to start shortly. In order for the referendum to take place, at least 12,000 Swiss citizens from the canton of Vaud must sign the signature lists within four months.

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