The direct democracy Wikipedia's page only talk about Switzerland. Is there any other nation that uses this system at the national level?

Edit 1:
In a direct democracy (DD), I mean a system in which the people really govern, and not just interfere with their representatives
. Interfering isn't a characteristic of direct democracies, but of representative democracy (RD). In RD the population doesn't govern, it has merely the power to interfere with their elected rulers) [to interfere ≈ to bother, perturb, disturb].

In all RD, a certain percentage of the population (5-10% maybe, 99% definitely) has the power to interfere ―even if it's not written clearly on the law/constitution (the smaller percentage, the more "representative" would be this democracy: a system that requires millions of signatures to launch a referendum is less democratic than a system that requires 1000).
So, to be clear, implementing "instruments of direct democracy" isn't enough. All RD do this. Even in the worst dictatorship, a demonstration of several million people will have the power to interfere with their dictator.

This source states that the Swiss Confederation is [just] a semi-direct democracy because it's a "representative democracy with strong instruments of direct democracy". (Credit to Tilarion). But is Switzerland only a semi-direct democracy or really a direct democracy?

To answer this question, we need first to answer this one: where to draw a line between representative democracy and direct democracy? With that answer, we could then find out which nation is a direct democracy. {1}

Edit 2:
Pommy's answer both questions:

  • is Switzerland a direct democracy?
  • where to draw a line between representative democracy and direct democracy?

According to Pommy's, Switzerland is a direct democracy because the popular vote is final: it overrides the decisions of parliament (Direct democracy outdoes representative democracy).

Since we clarified what is (and isn't) a direct democracy, we can answer the question we started with:
Is there any other nation than Switzerland that uses this system at the national level?

{1: This question How does direct democracy compare to representative democracy? focus on whether direct democracy is better or worse than a representative democracy. So, my question is not a duplicate.}

  • 1
    There are referendums in many countries outside of Switzerland, but not used for everyday subjects and typically initiated by parties. On the other hand Switzerland has representatives and elections too, so is Switzerland really only a direct democracy? Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 9:54
  • 1
    indeed, a Wikipedia source confirms your point "The Swiss Confederation is a semi-direct democracy (representative democracy with strong instruments of direct democracy). (src: SBN 978-2-606-01295-3 ) So no one seems to have been that far (yet), or the role of representatives in DD need to be defined more precisely. (A specialist of the Switz system would be handy for that)
    – JinSnow
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 17:46
  • I think Interfere is the wrong word... Maybe encumber. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:18
  • I think you mean interface or interact with instead of interfere.
    – Bobson
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:47
  • The UK in some sense? I'm like, after all, they are shooting themselves in the foot^W head by moving forward with Brexit as we write. Perhaps parliament will pull off a last minute stunt and have the UK government reverse triggering article 50, who knows... At any rate, other countries with referendums might have been tempted to simply ignore the outcome. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


Iceland seems to be one country is experimenting a form of direct democracy (source):

On its website the Constitutional Council proudly proclaims the new direct-democratic elements in the draft constitution as a major innovation:22 “With these changes, Iceland will be among the nations which best ensures the right of the public to participate in public decisions, or direct democracy.”

Articles 65 to 67 of the draft do indeed provide several participatory and direct democratic rights. For example, according to Art. 65, 10% of the electorate can launch a legislative initiative or call for an abrogative referendum on a law passed by parliament. As in the Swiss model, parliament can also present a counter-proposal, creating the space for a wider-ranging debate and avoiding ‘binary’ referendums - a simple choice between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – as for example in California.

As a side note, this medium article offers some highlight about direct democracy in action within Iceland.

Baltic States also use a form of direct democracy according to this article:

From the end of 1980s the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania successfully moved towards re-independence. At that stage referendums were a useful tool to carry through the transition peacefully. Today, each constitution of the Baltic Republics provides for instruments of direct democracy that have been used in different ways.

However, the same article concludes that direct democracy has several issues:

(..) referendums have been used strategically for partisan interest. The poor performance of direct democracy in the Baltic States to date is not only a result of strategic choices made by the authorities, but also of citizen-unfriendly procedural designs. In all three countries there are many formal constraints diminishing the will of the people.

  • @I edited my question which wasn't clear enough (interference with elected representative doesn't count as direct democracy), but I was looking for these information, so merci!
    – JinSnow
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 16:41

Direct democracy in Switzerland overrides representative democracy

All major questions in Switzerland are decided by popular vote:

  1. Any law adopted by parliament may be challenged by an optional referendum before it enters into force.
  2. Changes to the constitution as well as major financial decisions are subject to a mandatory referendum.
  3. Changes in other issues can be demanded in a constitutional initiative.

Parliament decides on the majority of laws, however the voting system brings the most important issues to popular votes. Parliament sometimes issues a voting recommendation or proposes an alternative, but the popular vote is final and overrides the decisions of parliament. This is more than just interference.

Switzerland thus has both forms of democracy, but direct democracy outdoes representative democracy.

  • Thanks for this information, but the question was "is there any other nation than the Swiss?". (Though you could add it as a side note though, by mentioning it at the beginning of your answer. It was missing, thanks!) (Swiss are amazing, if only I could exchange my shameful french passport with the Swiss one...)
    – JinSnow
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 14:37
  • @JinSnow If that is your question, please write it in the title, and rephrase it anywhere in the body text. My reply answers both the title question and the italicized question further down. You can apply for a Swiss passport in addition to your French one if you live there long enough, but the application test will include questions on the these forms of popular participation :-)
    – pommy
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 17:08
  • My bad, you are right actually. You answered a part of the question (and maybe even totally, if Switzerland is the only one who implemented direct democracy). I edited the question to show the path it took till that point.
    – JinSnow
    Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 7:15

No nation is or can be a real direct democracy, because most laws passed by their legislatures or executives aren’t big-ticket legislation in which voters might take an interest, they’re things like revised labelling rules for cans of tuna if they’re more than 500g. In the UK, most legislation is passed by statutory instrument and doesn’t even get debated or voted on by Parliament, never mind the whole electorate.

  • This answer is closest to the truth. Switzerland may be the closest thing there is a direct democracy but legislators are still the primary means of law making even there.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 21 at 19:54

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