Democracy in its purest form at the Landsgemeinde in Glarus

We have had our fair share of elections and politics in the last few weeks with the elections in the United States, The Netherlands and France. I have to admit that politics is not something I follow on a daily basis.

Maybe that is because it is sometimes unclear to me which legislations are dealt with on the national, and on a local level.

As I am from the Netherlands I am only allowed to vote for parliament in Holland. However, as I live in the moment I have gotten to know a new way of electoral voting at first hand.

Voting in Switzerland is a little different

Switzerland as one of the most complex election constructions in the world. This is because the country is divided up into 26 cantons that are all self-governed

The cantons themselves however do also adhere to a national Parliament. But unlike in many other countries bills can be introduced on the cantonal level without interference of the national parliament.

Often times, similar topics are discussed in the various cantons. Such as it is the case with one of the most controversial topics yesterday: should burkas be allowed or not.

As each canton is able to determine how they would like to deal with an issues such as these, it can come to complications. For example; let’s say that burkas would be allowed in Zurich, but not in St. Gallen, it would be nearly impossible for a muslim woman wearing a burka to travel from Zurich to Glarus without breaking the law.

This is why the national government deals with legislations and topics that “overrule” the cantonal level. Or the legislations can force the cantons to change the local rules.

Mind over matter

In the case of the burkas, the national Swiss government is planning to address this topic in 2018 or 2019. This means that when the people of Glarus would have voted in favor of the bill – it would possible need to be changed again in one or two years time.

This is a common problem that the Swiss understand very well. Although it might seem complex, it works very well.

At the end of the day it comes down to using common sense on topics such as these. It was great to see how the Glarner (people of Glarus) had heated open discussions on the topics that we at hand. Both before, during and after the Landgemeinde the discussions continued.

Direct democracy promotes mind over matter

There is no way to hide from the truth in this direct democracy. Every single one of your neighbors can see how you voted. If you have a problem/different point of view, feel free to share it. You are even encouraged to do so.

The best thing is, you will be heard. Everyone can state their opinion. And that is exactly what it is; an opinion. There is no applauding during or after a speech. There is just a pensive silence after each plea. The idea is to make you think about the topics, not just follow the popular opinion.

The atmosphere was grand

The open discussions and atmosphere were breathtaking. It was such a joy to follow the discussions, hear everyone out and find some sort of consensus at the end of the day.

This form of democracy is certainly not easy to uphold and requires an active community. But it also brings people together and promotes a sense of belonging. Each and everyone who was there knew exactly that their voice would be heard.

Each year, regardless of the weather, they celebrate this day. I will surely come back again in the next few years. It was very inspiring to be there and if you have a chance to visit a Landsgemeinde some time, you definitely should.

Landsgmeinde Glarus 2017
Landsgmeinde Glarus 2017

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Remco Livain
I’m a digital entrepreneur, online performance marketeer, founder and CEO of the digital innovation consultancy GANDT Ventures (based in Switzerland). We support organizations (SMBs, corporates and later stage ventures) in their digital efforts. I learned the trades of the (online) business at Venture Stars (MIFLORA), Rocket Internet (Westwing Home and Living) and Insparx (C-Date and be2).

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