Why Citizens’ assemblies?

Even in a semi-direct democracy like Switzerland, citizens’ assemblies are powerful to give a fresh breath of air to our system and foster people’s participation. Here are the main advantages in detail.

A complementary solution to the shortcomings of our current democracy

The current political authorities are often too hesitant in responding to urgent long-term matters, such as the growing climate change crisis. In fact, parliamentary mechanisms are forced by the rhythm of the electoral cycle to give priority to short-term decision-making. However, political participation through citizens’ assemblies can add, for the duration of the parliamentary mandates, a complementary decision-making body to Parliament or local representative chambers, and thus offers more breathing space in this mechanism. Participants in the citizens’ assembly are not chosen to represent political parties and are not pressed for re-election. Freed from these constraints, the members of the (mini-public) assembly build their own point of view by taking into account their future, that of their family and their loved ones. In this way, citizens’ assemblies strengthen existing democratic institutions: they help politicians to become more aware of the needs of the population, and render majority solutions more visible.

An empowering concept for all citizens

Citizens’ assemblies are a body formed from randomly selected citizens to deliberate on important issues. During the assembly, participants receive information on the respective topic from various experts. The major part of a CA then consists of deliberation by citizens under a professional and neutral moderation. Because the process is transparent and independent, it is not susceptible to influences from powerful elites and lobbies. Assembly participants are thus able to make decisions based solely on their own informed views, their values and their idea of public policy for the common good.

A true representativeness

Unlike existing legislative bodies, a citizens’ assembly is constituted through a selection process that makes it representative of society. Participants are randomly selected from the general population, according to demographic criteria such as gender, age, ethnocultural heritage, level of education or place of residence. Why is the representativeness of the legislative body important? When certain categories of the population are overrepresented, decision-making is mechanically oriented towards defending their own interests at the expense of those of the rest of the community.

An innovative approach for more democratic decisions

Switzerland has long had a pioneer role in introducing democratic innovation: The popular initiative and the referendum at national level as well as communal assemblies were once all innovative participatory instruments introduced in Switzerland from 1848. It’s time to develop our political instruments further and integrate citizens directly into the policy proposition process.

An original, yet traditional form of democracy

Citizens’ assemblies are based on sortition: citizens are selected at random from a large sample. This procedure was already used in Athenian democracy over 2000 years ago and has ever since been regularly and successfully applied in the course of history until today.

An inclusive process, where all voices can be heard

Citizens’ assemblies allow for in-depth discussion of content, examination of expert knowledge and personal exchange. Moderation ensures that all participants benefit from an equal chance to have their say. And through sortition, with compensation for loss of earnings, translation and support for childcare, all social groups can participate.

A new breath of life for trust, togetherness and democracy

In a context of democratic fatigue, citizens’ assemblies will give the population new trust in politics as it should be a system made by the people for the people, for them to shape their future. CAs create as well a sense of cohesion, openness and tolerance, gathering individuals from all walks of life. They may thus help in reconnecting society in times of doubt and instability.


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