How complex is politics
"For many citizens, politics is too complex"
Political scientist Nenad Stojanovic is launching a pilot project called Demoscan in Sion. A citizens' committee is supposed to bring the drafts closer to the electorate before voting.
Before voting, Mr Stojanovic, the federal government, municipalities and cantons send out a voting booklet that provides comprehensive information on submissions. Isn't that enough anymore?
The voting booklet is important. But it seems just as important to me that citizens come up with what votes are about in their own language. The aim is to strengthen direct democracy, to promote understanding of political proposals, to reach more people, including those less interested in politics, and ultimately to increase participation in votes. Today, on average, only around 45 percent of those entitled vote.
In a pilot project, you have a so-called citizens' letter sent out in Sion before the national vote on February 9th. Why is?
You can call it a citizen's letter or a citizen's report. The point is that we select 2,000 eligible voters using an anonymous, electronic lottery procedure and propose to them to work in a kind of citizens' committee for two weekends. Interested parties must provide information on age, gender, level of education and political orientation in a short questionnaire. We assume that 200 people will volunteer. From these we will again select 20, by lottery and taking into account certain characteristics that guarantee that the committee represents society optimally. Those selected will each receive CHF 500 in compensation.
What tasks do you give these people?
You should analyze one of the national voting documents and summarize in your own words, i.e. in simple, concise language, what it is about. Then it is a matter of compiling the arguments for and against. You will interview experts, but also representatives of the pros and cons. In the end, the committee itself votes on the proposal. Its summary, the most important arguments and the result of the internal vote are compiled on an A4 page and sent to the voters in Sion as a report. You will receive the report at the same time, but not in the envelope with the official voting documents, because the law does not provide for such a mailing.
«For many citizens, politics is too complex. We try to reach these people. "
An A4 page, isn't that not enough?
The art lies in the synthesis of focusing on the essentials. We do not yet know which templates will be released on September 9th. February come to the vote. The Federal Council will not announce this until the beginning of October. It is possible that we will vote on the corporate responsibility initiative or paternity leave. That would be exciting. I am convinced: No matter what the template is, there is always space for a synthesis on an A4 page.
Who are the citizens' letters addressed to? To undecided? To politicians disgusted?
They are an added value for everyone. For many citizens, politics is too complex. The amount of information available before voting puts them off. We try to reach these people as well as those who have little confidence in the authorities and the state.
How do you ensure that the members of the Citizens' Committee are not directly approached and influenced by parties or associations?
Of course, that cannot be prevented. But first of all, the entire selection process is anonymized. Once the citizens are selected, we tell them not to allow themselves to be influenced. The concept worked in the US state of Oregon. There it ran under the label "Healthy Democracy". By the way, someone from the team there will accompany our work in Sion.
Why did you choose manners?
There are several reasons. We were looking for a municipality with around 30,000 citizens and a political profile and population structure that corresponds to the Swiss average. So we found morals.
Are you planning to expand your project to other municipalities or cantons?
Sitten is a pilot project and therefore a kind of experiment. We will then investigate the effects scientifically in detail. It would of course be desirable for other municipalities or even cantons to be interested in our project. In Oregon, the citizens' letters were even incorporated into law. Switzerland is a different context. But we are confident that we can be successful here.
The political scientist Nenad Stojanovic (43) was born in Sarajevo and grew up in Ticino. After teaching assignments at the Universities of Zurich and Lucerne, he now has a professorship from the Swiss National Science Foundation at the University of Geneva. (phr)
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