The Direct-Democracy-Navigator World Fact-Check (I)

The Direct Democracy Navigator is working on a new study following the main question: Why, in general terms, were referendums – initiated by authorities or by citizens - conducted in electoral democracies worldwide? 

Guided by the answers given to this questions by David Butler and Austin Ranney as well as Silvano Moeckli this paper is divided into two parts. To be able to provide a well founded thesis, at first the results of the empirical fact-checks are presented according to the way the Navigator classifies direct democratic instruments. Secondly, we try to investigate the empirical data to approach the answer. As a result, the research on one hand will show that Butler/Ranney's and Moeckli's findings can be reinforced. On the other hand they need to be amended by the tradition of the political culture of a country.

On this Blog we will publish the empirical results of the research, starting with 

Part I: Plebiscites


In 1994 David Butler and Austin Ranney (1) published an empirical research about the worldwide practice of referendums with their book "Referendum around the world - the growing use of direct democracy".More than 20 years later, the Direct Democracy Navigator follows in these footsteps by conducting a "World Fact-Check". It explores how often the direct democratic instruments listed in the Navigator database led to referendums during the past 20 years (1996-May 15, 2016) and why referendums were conducted.

Freedom House lists a total of 125 states as "Electoral Democracies"in their report of the year 2015. (2) The Direct Democracy Navigator includes 109 of these states with appropriate instruments (legal designs)In the researched constitutions of twelve states, no direct democratic instruments were found at the national level in Cyprus, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Indonesia, Monaco, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United States of America. In addition, there are two states which are not included for the time being due to special political circumstances (Ukraine, Kosovo). In the case of Bhutan, which is listed by Freedom House as 'electoral democracy', corresponding direct democratic constitutional rights however require the consent of the King for their implementation and are therefore excluded. Finally, the state of Pakistan does not meet the required qualifications for an entry in the Freedom House study.

The webpage of "Direkte Demokratie" is used as source for comparison with conducted polls (3). The compilation on was used for data on Switzerland.

To summarise, in approximately 87% of the constitutional democracies, one can find forms of initiatives and/or plebiscites, and/or obligatory referendums.


(1) David Butler/Austin Ranney (Editors): Referendums around the world – the growing use of direct democracy, AEI Press, Washington, 1994

(2) The 'Direkte Demokratie'-database lists conducted referendums according to the number of poll questions. Particularly in the case of initiatives (Navigator categories: PCI/PCI +) these numbers do however not mean that as many initiatives were actually started. The question, how many initiatives were not successful will unfortunately remain unanswered

Empirical results  - Part I


  1. Minority and veto-plebiscites (MTP/MVP)

A minority within the minority

Although an appropriate instrument exists in 12 states (albeit topic restricted in many cases), it was conducted in only two countries, Italy and Slovenia. No corresponding votes were held in: Albania, Austria, Denmark, France, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden.                                               



  • Italy

2016 Suspension of licenses for test drilling in the sea - 2006 Constitutional reform - 2001 Regionalization - 1997 Abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

  • Slovenia

2011 Law against illegal employment; Document Protection and Archives Act - 2010 Arbitration proceedings for establishing the border with Croatia - 2005 Law of the state broadcaster RTV Slovenija - 2004 Technical law on the re-registration of people eliminated from the electoral register in 1992 - 2001 Artificial insemination for the non-married - 1999 Third steam power plant TET 3 - 1996 Electoral system for the National Assembly

  2. Veto-Plebiscites (AVP)

The instrument of the veto-plebiscite (usually initiated by the President in presidential systems) is seldom used as well. In the following states, no referendum was conducted on the basis of such a legal design: Albania, Australia, East Timor, Chile, Maldives, Tunisia (1). (2)



  • Iceland

2011 State guarantee for Icesave compensation fund - 2010 Amending the law of compensation for British and Dutch investors (Icesave)

  • Turkey

2007 Constitutional reform

A 'mixed instrument': the 'plebiscitary PCR' in Latvia: In Latvia citizens can in principle recall laws by a referendum law. However, this is tied to the previous 'approval' by a minority of the Parliament or the President. In this respect the Latvian scheme is structurally related to the parliamentary minority plebiscite or veto plebiscite. The listing of the referendums is included in part II of this article.


(1) In Tunisia the instrument is anchored for a few years in the new Constitution.

(2) In many cases the instrument of the veto is limited on constitutional amendments.

 3. Plebiscites (ATP)

Without Switzerland!

Out of a total of 70 countries which provide this form of decision-making, more than half of the states did not use this opportunity in the past 20 years: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Benin, Canada, Cape Verde, Comoros, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Macedonia, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Latvia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Namibia, Nepal, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sâo Tomé and Príncipé , South Africa, South Korea, St. Lucia, Suriname, East Timor, and Zambia.

By law, performing plebiscites is in some cases an exceptional case, for example plebiscites can only be held on laws concerning constitutional or sovereignty issues. 


Selected countries: the topics

  • Ecuador

2011 More difficult suspension of pre-trial detention; Stricter requirements for alternatives to imprisonment; No investments held outside their business for banks and media companies; Temporary reorganization of judicial supervision; Mode of new judicial supervision; Prohibition of illegitimate enrichment; Prohibition of games of chance; Control of sexual and discriminatory portrayal of violence in the media; Obligatory membership in social security for employers. - 2007 Election of a Constitutional Council - 2006 Ten-year plan for education; Improving health care; Oil revenues for social and employment programs; - 1997 Election of a Constitutional Council; Election of the Constitutional Council by pure popular vote/partly from civil society organizations; Restriction of expenditure during election campaigns; Election mode: List option with/without modification possibilities; Parliamentary election during the first/second round of presidential elections. Dissolution of parties that have received less than 5 percent of the votes in two consecutive elections; Composition of the Supreme Electoral Court composed of the strongest parties; Parliament elects by a two thirds majority the heads of the state-owned enterprises; Modernization of Justice; Election of the judicial administration authorities by the Supreme Court; Loss of office for elected officials who violate laws; Implementation of reforms by the Parliament within 60 days

  • Colombia

2003 Inability to hold public office for those who destroy public property; In Congress and all local assemblies voting only by roll-call; Removal of substitute candidates at all levels; Increased influence of the Congress on public law institutions; Prohibition to work at the parliamentary services for parliamentarians; Reduction of the Congress and local assemblies by a fifth; Loss of office for officers staying away from work without excuse or violation of party funding; Restriction of pensions for government employees to 25 minimum wages; Abolition of regional and local courts of auditors; No public funding of election campaigns; Released funds from the abolition of courts of auditors for education and health issues; Reallocation of funds for education and health; Freezing of public spending for two years; Loss of legal personality for parties that received less than 2% of the vote; Immediate entry into force of the reform

  • Poland

2015 Election of the Sejm in one-man-constituencies; Maintaining state party funding; Tax law in doubt for the taxpayer - 2003 Accession to the European Union - 1996 Privatization program; Financing of pensions from the proceeds of privatization; Yield of privatization in public pension funds; Extension of mass privatization through the national investment fund; Privatization through coupons

  • New Zealand

2015 Alternatives to the national flag (four votes) -  2011 Retention of the electoral system; Alternative to the current electoral system - 1997 Mandatory pension insurance

  • Bolivia

2016 Third term for President - 2008 Confidence in the President's policies - 2006 Autonomy for departments - 2004 Repeal of the law on fossil fuels; Nationalization of fossil fuels; Financing of state-owned oil companies; President Mesas' policy to gain access to the sea; Use of profit from the sale of gas for social and infrastructure objectives

  • Iceland

2012 Design of the Constitutional Commission as a basis for a new Constitution; Natural resources as public property; Position of the state church; Better selection choices for individuals; The same weight for each single vote; Introduction of citizen initiatives

  • Luxembourg

2015 Lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 years; Voting rights for foreigners; Term limits for ministers - 2005 Constitution of the European Union

  • Niger

2010 Constitution - 2009 Constitution - 1999 Constitution - 1996 Constitution

  • Madagascar

2010 Constitution - 2007 Constitutional reform - 1998 Parliamentary elections in the spring of 2008

  • Portugal

2007 Abortion law - 1998 Regionalization; Abortion law

  • Romania

2009 Single-chamber parliament; Not more than 300 members - 2007 Majority voting system

  • Hungary

2003 Accession to the EU - 1997 Accession to NATO

  • France

2005 Constitution of the European Union - 2000 Shortening the presidential term to five years

  • Georgia

2008 Parliamentary elections in the spring of 2008; Accession to NATO

  • Liechtenstein

2002 Land use planning law

2000 Citizens Rights Law (easier naturalization)

  • Malta

2011 Divorce for separated couples - 2003 Accession to the European Union

  • Moldova

2010 Popular election of the President - 1999 More powers for the President

  • Slovenia

2003 Accession to the EU; Accession to NATO

  • Taiwan

2004 Negotiations with Mainland China; Procurement of new air defense missiles