What is Modern Direct Democracy?

Modern direct democracy facilitates popular sovereignty within the framework of a representative system by giving every citizen the right to initiate new proposals (e.g. new laws or constitutional amendments) and to take part in the final decision-making.  Representative democracy is strengthened by modern direct democracy. By fine-tuning the power-sharing between the governors and the governed through the establishment and development of well-designed initiative and referendum procedures and practices, modern democracies become more responsive and truly representative

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Since 2008 the Initiative and Referendum Institute has been instrumental in setting up the first global network of direct democracy professionals. The first World Forum took place in Aarau, Switzerland in October 2008. It brought together practitioners, activists and professionals from across the globe and featured a world tour of direct-democratic hotspots. Special thematic forums and public events covered educational issues, developments in North America, Latin America and Asia, as well as the importance of initiatives and referendums in the European integration process. The 2009 Forum took place in Korea/Asia and the2010 Forum gathered more than 400 citizens from all continents in San Francisco. The 2012 Forum is planned to take place in Latin America.

In recent years, many states around the world have introduced direct democratic procedures and plebiscites; in Europe, there has been a massive increase in the use of popular rights since 1989, and within the framework of the European Union, consideration is being given to the first ever implementation of a transnational instrument of direct democracy - the so-called European Citizens’ Initiative which is in fact an agenda initiative. Since 1990, initiative and referendum as well as plebiscite procedures have been introduced in many Latin American countries; in Asia, too, there is a growing tendency towards introducing direct democracy which entitles citizens to take part in decision-making on substantive political issues.

As a result, there is a growing focus, not only within politics, but also in the fields of administration, academia, media and civil society, on the qualitative aspects of modern democracy. Questions are being asked about the potential and limits of modern direct democracy both from a legal and practical point of view. The Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy gathers professionals from politics, government, academia, civil society, business and media, and is hosted by IRI, a special think-tank on citizens’ rights, together with many of its partners including the Korea Democracy Foundation. For a full introduction and overview on the Global Forum process download our book "Global Citizens in Charge".

This global process explores the grounds for a worldwide network and aims to achieve various goals, which include:

  • preparing a global inventory of the procedures and praxis of citizens’ rights;

  • launching a public debate on the potential and the limits of direct democracy within the process of European integration;

  • presenting ideas and proposals for a global curriculum and agenda in the fields of education and research;


Read the San Francisco Declaration on Modern Direct Democracy


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