What is the structure of direct democracy

Direct democracy from below

What is direct democracy from below?

Direct democracy from below aims at the core area of ​​the political. Direct democracy raises the question of who is allowed to make binding political decisions. In our current political system of indirect democracy, power is transferred to political representatives through elections. However, more and more people are not satisfied with the political results of the parties and politicians. Broken election promises, standstill reforms, corruption and ignorance of the demands of the population leave behind a deep unease at being at the mercy of the parties and politicians without influence and powerlessly. Indirect democracy - often suggestively and euphemistically referred to as “representative democracy” - is perceived as unrepresentative by ever larger sections of the population.

Direct democracy from below, on the other hand, demands that the population be able to regain the decision-making powers that they have delegated to politicians through elections. The population should always be able to decide for themselves on specific factual issues if they feel they are not adequately represented by their elected representatives. It must be possible to initiate an initiative referendum on issues that do not make it onto the official political agenda. Veto referendums should be open against new laws of the parliament and against political projects of the government. In the case of constitutional changes and EU treaty changes, the support threshold for the veto referendum should be particularly low, which comes close to a mandatory referendum.

Use the potential of the wisdom of the many

Direct democracy from below does not want to replace the current political system of indirect democracy, but represents an important corrective that opens up hope and perspectives for a further development of society and for those affected to adopt politics. The mere possibility of being able to influence politics effectively through binding referendums activates civil society, because commitment and commitment get a fair chance of success. The mere possibility of a veto referendum allows government and parliamentary policies to produce more citizen-friendly results.

The design of the direct democratic procedure is decisive

Direct democracy from below is not just about the referendum as such. Rather, what matters is the course of the entire direct democratic process and how the formation of opinion and decision-making is structured before the referendum. In the three-stage process consisting of the initiation stage (popular initiative), qualification stage (popular initiative) and decision-making stage (referendum), sufficient space should be provided for discourse within the population and between parliament and the initiative. The direct democratic process design should take into account some essential principles and criteria:


The results of the referendums must be binding. Non-binding referendums, which those in power can disregard, cannot convey the trust in the wisdom of the many to be taken seriously enough by the population. The potential of direct democracy cannot develop here. The same applies to arrangements where it is left to the National Council alone to cast the issue of the referendum into a legal text, as is the case, for example. is contained in the proposal of the referendum MeinOE. This would allow the parliamentary majority to reverse unpleasant demands of the referendum.

Compliant with human rights

Since parliament and government derive their decision-making powers from the sovereign, from the population, the population must be able to decide in referendums on everything that parliament and government can also decide on. Topic exclusions that only apply to the population, but not also to those in power, must be resolutely rejected. In accordance with this principle, the human rights binding of democracy by the population is to be observed in referendums just as parliament and government must adhere to it. At the beginning of the direct democratic process, a clarification should take place as to whether the issue is in conformity with human rights. Voting on what is contrary to human rights and subsequently repealing it again by the Constitutional Court, however, would undermine confidence in the effectiveness of direct democracy.

Citizen-friendly and civil society

The hurdles of the required declarations of support should also be accessible and practical for civil society that is not organized in parties or large associations. A support hurdle of 10% (i.e. approx. 630,000 declarations of support) as in the current proposal by the SPÖ and ÖVP effectively excludes the non-partisan population from realistic participation and codecision and therefore misses the chance to help bridge the gap between party state and population of direct democracy from below.

Free collection of signatures creates an uncomplicated, self-organized discourse within the population and is therefore rightly referred to as the “soul of direct democracy”. The antiquated bureaucratic obstacle of having to go to the office for a declaration of support must therefore be removed.

Participation quorums make a valid referendum result dependent on a minimum participation of those entitled to vote. International experience shows that participation quorums almost without exception lead to the opposing side openly calling for non-participation in the referendum and refusing to discuss the matter because this massively increases the probability of success for the opposing side. Participation quorums thus cause a “Berlusconization” of politics and create a structure where undemocratic refusal to discourse is rewarded.

Fair and fair

It is important that equal opportunities are ensured when promoting the cause. A voting brochure is an essential element of this. In a fair editorial process, an impartially formulated comparison of the arguments of the supporters and opponents is created. The voting brochure is sent to all voters so that everyone can easily get a quick overview of the relevant arguments. Fair access, especially to the public and publicly funded media, is also important. In addition, a reimbursement of costs (similar to party financing) will be required. In addition, the financing of the direct democratic campaign should be made transparent. The Court of Auditors should not only be able to check in retrospect, but rather during the ongoing referendum, and inform about who is really funding a financially strong direct democratic campaign.


The three-stage model provides for a formalized dialogue between parliament and the initiative with the initiative's hearing and right to speak after the necessary declarations of support for the popular initiative have been collected. Since the initiative can enforce the referendum on the basis of a successful referendum, it can negotiate with parliament on an equal footing, which can open up constructive compromise solutions. If there is a referendum, the parliament can also submit an alternative proposal that competes against the bill of the referendum. For populist referendums, such an alternative proposal significantly reduces the chances. In a discourse between several alternative proposals, pseudo-solutions emerge much more clearly than in the case of a yes / no decision on a single proposal.

What is essential is a detailed public discourse in which experts and interest groups have ample opportunity to have their say. On this basis, all voters can get an overview of the main arguments. Sufficient discussion formats must be provided for this discourse, especially in public broadcasting.

Number of declarations of support required

From the point of view of more democracy! In the three-stage model of direct democracy, 10,000 support should be required for the first stage of the popular initiative ("initiation stage"). In order to trigger a referendum in the 2nd stage ("qualification stage") with a referendum, 100,000 subsidies are to be collected in 18 months. A veto referendum is to be triggered with 50,000 supports that will be collected in 3 months.