In political science, an initiative (also known as a popular or citizens' initiative) is a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a government to choose to either enact a law or hold a public vote in parliament in what is called indirect initiative, or under direct initiative, the proposition is immediately put to a plebiscite or referendum, in what is called a Popular initiated Referendum or citizen-initiated referendum.
In an indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then put to a popular vote only if not enacted by the legislature. If the initiative (citizen-proposed law) is rejected by the parliament, the government may be forced to see the proposition put to a referendum. The initiative may then take the form of a direct initiative or an indirect initiative.
In a direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a referendum.
The vote may be on a proposed federal level, statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or local ordinance, or to simply oblige the executive or legislature to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. It is a form of direct democracy.
A direct initiative is when an initiative measure, either an initiated state statute or initiated constitutional amendment, is placed directly on the ballot for voters to reject or pass. The measure is not first submitted to the legislature.
An indirect initiative refers to a process where after sufficient signatures are collected, the measure is voted on by a parliament.
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|Restrictions / Details||Conditions of
|Argentina||Legislative||1,5% of the registered voters in at least 6 provinces||Not authorised on matters relating to constitutional reforms, international treaties, taxes, budget and criminal matters.||1,5% of the registered voters in at least 6 provinces||The initiative must be voted in favour or against by the Congress.|
(≈1,5% of the registrants in 2017)
|Constitutionality review. Prohibited against laws relating to the integrity of the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia, fundamental human rights and freedoms, the budget, taxes, the financial obligations of the State, declarations of establishment and termination of the state of emergency, declarations of war and peace, as well as amnesty laws||Absolute majority
+ one third of the registrants in favour
|Bolivia||Legislative||20% of the registrants + 15% in each of the nine departments of Bolivia||Not authorized on subjects relating to the unity and integrity of Bolivia's territory, human rights, taxes, the country's internal and external security, the drafting of laws, the organization of institutions responsible for the protection of society and national defence, the nature of the state and its relations with decentralized entities.||Absolute majority||Restricted|
of a treaty
|5% of the registrants||Suspends ratification of the treaty in the meantime.|
|Constitutional||20% of the registrants||Only once per concurrent term of office of the meeting and the president, which is five years.|
|Bulgaria||Legislative||400,000 in three months
(≈5,7 % of the registrants in 2017)
|Not authorised on matters relating to Articles 84, 91, 103, 103, 130, 132 and 147 of the Constitution, taxes, duties, taxes and contributions to social security, the state budget, the internal organisation of the National Assembly, the entirety of a code of law and international treaties, if they have already been ratified.||Absolute majority
+ Higher participation than in recent legislative elections
|Colombia||Abrogative||10% of the registrants in six months||Not allowed against laws relating to the state budget, taxation, as well as the ratification of international treaties.||Absolute majority
+ 25% participation
|Costa Rica||Legislative||5 % of the registrants in nine months||Only once a year
Banned in the six months before and after a presidential election
Not allowed on matters relating to the budget, taxation, monetary matters, pensions and public contracts and administrative acts.
+ 30% participation
|Constitutional||Absolute majority of votes|
+ 40% participation
|Croatia||Legislative||10% of the registrants within two weeks||Constitutionality review by the Constitutional Court if requested by the Parliament.||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Ecuador||Legislative||5 % of enrollees in six months||Constitutionality review. Unauthorized on matters relating to taxation and the political and administrative structure of the state.||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Revocatory||15% of the registrants in six months||Unlike the president. May only be convened once during his term of office. Cannot be done in the first or last year of the mandate.||Absolute majority of all valid, blank and invalid votes|
|Constitutional||8% of the registrants in six months||Constitutionality review. May not have as its object a change in the nature of the state or its decentralized elements, affect the rights guaranteed by the constitution, or change the procedure for amending the constitution||Absolute majority|
|Constituent||12% of the registrants in six months||Convene a constituent assembly. The proposal must include the voting system that will be used to elect or select the members of the constituency as well as the general framework of the electoral process. The new constitution prepared by the constituent assembly will in turn have to be put to a referendum.|
(≈2,5 % of the registrants in 2018)
|Authorised only in areas falling within the scope of the National Assembly, from which projects relating to constitutional amendments, the State budget, national taxes, pension or health insurance contributions, customs duties and general rules on local taxes are also excluded, national and local electoral systems, international treaties, the dissolution of the National Assembly or local assemblies, the declaration of a state of war, a state of siege or a state of emergency, as well as the proclamation and extension of a state of preventive defence, military operations and amnesty laws.||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation
(≈1 % of the registrants in 2018)
|Constitutionality review. Not allowed against laws relating to taxation, budget, amnesty, remission of sentences and ratification of international treaties.||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation
(≈5,1 % of the registrants in 2017)
|Requires the support of at least one of the 47 county assemblies if the proposal does not address the supremacy of the constitution over any other law, territorial integrity, popular sovereignty, national values and principles of governance referred to in Article 10, the Bill of Rights, the mandate of the President, the independence of the judiciary, the powers of parliament, the structure of decentralized entities and the same procedure for constitutional review||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation in at least half of the counties
|Latvia||Legislative||10% of the registrants||Not authorized on matters relating to the state budget, taxes, duties, duties, loans and obligations, railway tariffs, military conscription, declarations of war, peace treaties, declaration of the beginning and end of the state of emergency, mobilization and demobilization, as well as international treaties. The parliament may decide to adopt the popular proposal itself, in which case the referendum does not take place.||Absolute majority
+ Higher participation than in recent legislative elections
+ 50% participation
|Liechtenstein||Legislative||1,000 in six weeks
(≈5 % of the registrants in 2017)
|None. However, the parliament may decide to vote the bill itself, in which case the referendum does not take place.||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Abrogative||1,000 in thirty days||This includes any legislative change, new one-time expenditure of more than 500,000 Swiss Francs or new annual expenditure of more than 250,000 Swiss Francs. The implementation of the referendum suspends their application at least until the results are promulgated.|
|Constitutional||1,500 in six weeks
(≈7,5% of enrolments in 2017)
|None. However, the parliament may decide to vote for the amendment itself by two thirds of its total membership, in which case the referendum shall not take place. The deadline is thirty days if the referendum is intended to prevent a constitutional revision initiated by parliament. Also concerns international treaties and their ratification.|
(≈12 % of the registrants in 2016)
|Authorized only in matters within the scope of the meeting, the Seimas.||Absolute majority
+1/3 of the registrants in favour
+ 50% participation
|Malta||Abrogative||10% of the registrants||Constitutionality review. Prohibited against all or part of the Constitution as well as areas related to the treaties of the European Union or other international treaties, electoral law, tax legislation, as well as the organization of decentralized entities.||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation
|Marshall Islands||Constituent||25% of the registrants||It concerns the convening of a Constitutional Convention to study the popular proposal to amend the Constitution.||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Mexico||Legislative||2% of the registrants in two years||Authorized only in areas under the jurisdiction of the Mexican Congress and deemed to be of "national importance", which is defined by law as having an impact on most of the country's territory and population. In addition, projects relating to a restriction of human rights enshrined in the Constitution, Article 40 defining the country as a representative, democratic, federal, free and sovereign republic and subjects relating to electoral law, the state budget, the organisation of national security and that of the army and its operations are excluded. The Supreme Court of Justice may rule on the constitutionality of the referendum proposal if the Congress so requests.||Absolute majority
+ 40% participation
|Micronesia||Constitutional||10% of the registrants in at least 3 of the 4 states.||If several contradictory amendments are adopted simultaneously, the one with the most votes shall prevail.||75% qualified majority in at least 3 of the 4 states||Binding|
|New Zealand||Legislative||10% of the registrants in twelve months||N/A||Absolute majority||Non binding|
(≈8 % of the registrants in 2016)
|Authorised only in areas falling within the scope of the Assembly.||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation
|Palaos||Legislative||10% of the registrants||Authorized only in areas under the jurisdiction of the Federal Parliament. Must be held at the same time as the general elections, which are held every four years.||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Constitutional||25% of the registrants||Must be held at the same time as the general elections, which are held every four years.||Absolute majority in at least 12 of the 16 [states of Palau].|
|Peru||Legislative||10% of the registrants||Excluded are projects relating to the restriction of fundamental rights of the individual, tax and budgetary matters, as well as international treaties already in force. In the event of a valid and favourable result, the parliament may only amend the law or the amendment once a period of two years has passed, except by holding a new referendum or by a two-thirds vote. In the event of a negative or invalid result, a new popular initiative cannot be implemented on the same subject as two years later.||Absolute majority
+ 30% of the registrants in favour
|Philippines||Legislative||10% of the registrants + 3% in each of the Legislative Districts||Authorized in the areas covered by the Congress||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Constitutional||12% of the registrants + 3% in each of the Legislative Districts||Can only be initiated by the population once every five years.|
|San Marino||Legislative||1.5% of the registrants in 45 days||Authorized in areas under the purview of Parliament, excluding projects against constitutional provisions, those relating to the state budget, taxes and taxation, amnesties, the right to vote, the right to work, freedom of movement and any other violation or restriction of human rights, as well as the ratification of international treaties||Absolute majority
+ 32% of the registrants in favour
|Abrogative||1.5% of the registrants in 90 days|
|Serbia||Legislative||100,000 in seven days(≈1,5% of the registrants in 2016)||Authorized only in areas within the competence of the National Assembly, to which projects relating to international treaties, human rights and freedoms, minority rights, tax legislation, the state budget, the declaration of a state of emergency, amnesty laws and the assembly's electoral law are also excluded||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation
(≈8 % of the registrants in 2016)
|Constitutionality review by the Constitutional Court if the President so requests. Not allowed in areas relating to fundamental rights and freedoms, taxes and the state budget. In the event of a valid and favourable result, the law may only be amended by parliament or be the subject of a new referendum once a period of three years has passed.||Absolute majority
+ 50% participation
|Slovenia||Abrogative||2,500 then 40,000 in one month
(≈2,3 % of the registrants in 2017)
|Not authorized against laws relating to the integrity of the territory of the Republic of Macedonia, fundamental human rights and freedoms, budget, taxes, financial obligations of the State, declarations of establishment and termination of the state of emergency, declarations of war and peace, as well as amnesty laws||Absolute majority
+ 20% of the registrants in favour
|Switzerland||Abrogative||50,000 in one hundred days
(≈ 0,9% of the registrants in 2018)
|Applies to the introduction and revision of laws. The 100-day period runs from the date of its publication in the Federal Gazette. Can also be triggered by eight cantons of the twenty-six of the country.||Absolute majority||Binding|
|Constitutional||100,000 in eighteen months
(≈ 1,8% of the registrants in 2018)
|The proposal may be drafted in such a way as to be ready for adoption, or made in general terms, in which case the petitioners leave it to Parliament to draft.||Absolute majority if in general terms|
Majority of voters and cantons if proposal drafted
|Taiwan||Legislative||0.01% then 1,5% of the registrants in six months||Must be validated by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Proposals to amend the Constitution and the name, national anthem, flag and borders of the country are excluded. While the electoral law exceptionally lowers the right to vote from 20 to 18 years of age in these referendums, they are also explicitly prohibited from changing the legal age of voting rights||Absolute majority
+ 25% of the registrants in favour
|Uruguay||Abrogative||25% of the registrants||Not allowed against decisions concerning the state budget, as well as areas within the presidential prerogatives||Absolute majority
+ 25% of the registrants in favour
|Constitutional||10% of the registrants||The parliament may propose a counter-proposal, which will be submitted to a vote at the same time as the popular proposal.||Absolute majority
+ 35% of the registrants in favour
|Venezuela||Legislative||10% of the registrants||Consultative referendums. The following can also be organised at the level of municipalities and States of Venezuela||Absolute majority||Non Binding|
|Abrogative||"Law": 10% of the registrants, "Decree": 5%.||Not authorized against laws relating to the budget, those establishing or amending taxes, or relating to credit, amnesty, human rights and international treaties. May only be organised once on the same subject for each five-year term of office of the meeting.||Absolute majority
+ 40% participation
|Revocatory||20% of the registrants||Against the president or any other elected official. May only be convened once during his term of office, once the first half of his term has expired.||A higher number of votes for dismissal than the one obtained by the President at the time of his election |
+ 25% of participation
of a treaty
|15% of the registrants||Suspends ratification of the treaty in the meantime.||Absolute majority|
|Constitutional||The draft constitutional amendment may be submitted in its entirety to a referendum, or be the subject of separate questions if the President, one third of the parliament or 5% of the voters so request. May only be organised once per five-year term of office of the meeting.|
|Constituent||Convene a constituent assembly. The new constitution prepared by the constituent assembly will in turn have to be put to a referendum.|
In Brazil, a popular law initiative requires two conditions be met before it is sent to the National Congress: signatures from at least 1% of national registered voters and at least 0.3% of the people allowed to vote from each of at least five of the 27 federal unities (the 26 states plus the federal district). If both conditions are met, Congress is obliged to discuss and vote on holding the initiative.
The Canadian province of British Columbia has a citizen initiative law known as the Recall and Initiative Act. The original proposal was put to voters in a referendum held in October 1991 and was supported by over 83% of voters. It was subsequently put into force by the incoming NDP government. Since it came into force in 1995, 11 attempts have been made to fore the government to either adopt a law or to hold a referendum on the question, but only one has succeeded. Only one secured the required signatures of 10% of registered voters in each riding throughout British Columbia. Due to this achievement the government held the first referendum under this legislation, on September 2011 on the subject of repealing the Harmonized Sales Tax. Details of its use in BC are available on the Elections BC website.
The rejected Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) included a limited indirect initiative right (Article I-46(4)). The proposal of introducing the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) was that 1,000,000 citizens, from minimal numbers of different member states, could invite the executive body of the European Union (EU), the European Commission, to consider any proposal "on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution." The precise mechanism had not been agreed upon. Critics underlined the weakness of this right of initiative, which did not ultimately entail any vote or referendum.
A similar scheme under the same name, European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), has been put forward in the now ratified European Lisbon Treaty (which entered into force on 1 December 2009), enabling a limited indirect initiative right. It follows very similar rules to the ones outlined in the European Constitution, requiring the signatures of 1,000 000 European Nationals. These citizens would thereby obtain the same right to request the Commission to submit a legislative proposal as the Council has had since the establishment of the European Communities in 1957. This, however, does require that the signatures come from a "significant number" of Member States. It is suggested that this significant number will need to be around a quarter of member states, with at least 1/500 of the citizens in those member states supporting the initiative. With the variety of languages within the European Union, this creates a significant hurdle for people to navigate. The treaty also makes it clear that right of initiative should not be confused with the right to petition, particularly since a petition is directed to Parliament while a citizens' initiative is directed to the Commission; whereas a petition is a method of remonstrance, usually focussing on perceived infringements of European Law, an initiative is a grassroots proposal for new legislation. In 2013 the subjects of ongoing open initiatives of the European Citizens' Initiative are e.g. about "water and sanitation as a human right" (against Water privatization), "30 km/h - making the streets liveable!" (Traffic calming in towns), "Unconditional Basic Income" (UBI - Exploring a pathway towards emancipatory welfare conditions), or to "End Ecocide in Europe" (to give the Earth Rights).
Since 1 March 2012, groups of at least 50,000 Finnish citizens with suffrage have had the constitutional right to send a citizens' initiative (Finnish: kansalaisaloite, Swedish: medborgarinitiativ) to the Parliament of Finland. The Parliament is entitled to address and discuss each initiative and the possibilities of them becoming new laws. The first initiative to pass the 50,000 mark did so already a few months after the "kansalaisaloite" first became possible. The initiative demanded the ending of fur industry in Finland, but failed to pass in Parliament. The first initiative to be accepted by the Parliament was the citizens' initiative known in Finland as "Equal Marriages Law", which is also known by its campaign slogan, #Tahdon2013 (#IDo2013). This initiative was accepted by the Parliament during the 2011-2015 parliamentary session, though political debate, decision-making and drafting of the new law continued on to the next parliamentary session. The new law took effect on 1 March 2017[circular reference]. To date, a total of 24 citizens' initiatives have reached the 50,000 mark, with 20 of them having been either rejected or accepted in Parliament - so far, only two have been accepted: the aforementioned "Equal Marriages Law" and the "Motherhood Law" from 2015/16[circular reference].
A limited, indirect form of local initiative was added to the French Constitution (article 72-1, référendum d'initiative locale) on 28 March 2003 as part of decentralization reforms. However, the only power these "local referendum initiatives" confer on citizens is the ability to add propositions to their local assembly's meeting agenda. The decision as to whether to submit citizen propositions to a popular vote (referendum) rests with the local assembly. A citizens' initiative referendum was proposed by the yellow vests movement.
All German states have the right to initiative. However, there is no constitutional citizens' initiative in Germany at a federal level.
The Constitution of Ireland, since its 1937 enactment, has never made provision for initiatives. Since 2012, the Oireachtas (parliament) has a joint committee to which the public can submit petitions; the committee must formally consider them but need not accept them. In May–June 2013, when the Constitutional Convention considered Dáil electoral reform, members voted 83:16 in favour of allowing "citizens' initiatives" in general, 80:19 to allow them specifically for legislation, and 78:17 to allow them for constitutional amendments. In April 2015, the Fine Gael–Labour government rejected the recommendations on the basis that there is sufficient public involvement in legislation through the petitions committee and the pre-legislative scrutiny process.
Article 48 of the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State gave a right of initiative: if more than 50,000 voters demanded a change in law, the Oireachtas had two years to enact it, failing which 75,000 voters could petition for a referendum. The only attempt to invoke this was organised in 1927 by Fianna Fáil, the largest opposition party, which sought to abolish the Oath of Allegiance. By May 1928 Fianna Fáil claimed 96,000 signatures and attempted to have the petition laid before the Dáil (lower house). The motion was deferred, ostensibly to allow the Dáil procedure committee to define the method of dealing with such petitions. Before the committee could meet, the Cumann na nGaedheal government rushed through an amendment deleting Article 48 of the Constitution.
In New Zealand a vote initiated by the public is called a citizen initiated referendum. These are non-binding referendums on any issue in which proponents have submitted a petition to Parliament signed by ten percent of all registered electors within 12 months.
People's initiative to propose amendments to the constitution is enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution under Article XVII Section 2, which states:
Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein. No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter.
This provision is further protected by Republic Act 6735 or The Initiative and Referendum Act. The law defines initiative as:
- A petition to propose amendments to the constitution.
- A petition to propose enactment of national legislation.
- A petition to propose enactment of local resolution or ordinance on regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay level.
The law also provides indirect initiative defining the exercise of people's initiative through a proposition sent to congress or local legislative body for action.
According to Article 74 of the Romanian Constitution, groups of at least 100,000 Romanian Citizens with suffrage that reside in at least one quarter of all the counties and with a minimum 5,000 signatures per county have the right to send a Citizens' Initiative which must be considered by the legislative body (Initiatives that address fiscal or international matters are not covered by this right). If the initiative concerns changing the Constitution, Article 150 of the Constitution states that the group must include at least 500,000 Romanian Citizens with suffrage who reside in at least half of all the counties, with a minimum of 20,000 per county. Article 151 of the Constitution also states that any amendments brought to it, must be also approved by means of a National Referendum.
The federal popular initiative was included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1891, permitting a certain number of citizens (currently 100,000 signatures within 18 months) to make a request to amend a constitutional article, or even to introduce a new article into the constitution. The right of initiative is also used at the cantonal and communal level in Switzerland (all cantons, all communes where the direct democratic citizens' participation originates); many cantons allow initiatives to enact regular non-constitutional law, but the federal system does not.
If the necessary number of supporters is reached, the initiative will be put to a plebiscite about two or three years later; the delay helps prevent short-term political moods from getting into the constitution. The parliament and government will both issue their official opinions on whether they recommend voting for or against the proposed amendment, and these opinions will be published.
The parliament may also pass an alternative amendment suggestion which will also be included on the ballot; in this case, the voters cast two votes, one for whether or not they want an amendment, and one for which one they want, the original one from the initiative or the one introduced in parliament, in case a majority decides for amending.
A citizen-proposed change to the constitution in Switzerland at the national level needs to achieve both a majority of the national popular vote and a majority of the canton-wide vote to pass. The vast majority of national initiatives introduced since 1891, when the system started, have failed to receive voter support. But the initiatives have proven to be a useful tool to force the government to concentrate on subjects that will otherwise remain hidden from the politic, lowering the distance between the government and the citizens.
While there is no mandate for a referendum following directly from such an initiative, the UK government has a system whereby citizens can set up online petitions, which are considered by a committee. Any petition which reaches 10,000 signatures triggers a response from the government and those which reach 100,000 signatures will almost always require the government to consider holding a debate (with some exceptions, such as whether a similar issue has been debated recently, or a debate for that issue is scheduled) on the matter in the House of Commons. Only British Citizens or individuals resident in the UK are allowed to start a petition or be a signatory. Petitions can be initiated via a specialist website, which also contains guidance on when petitions will, and will not, be debated. On occasion, some petitions which are signed by fewer than 100,000 people are still debated. Examples of issues which have been debated in parliament via this system are various issues surrounding the UK withdrawal from the EU and a petition calling for United States President Donald Trump's state visit to UK to be cancelled.
The United States has no initiative process at the national level, but the initiative is in use at the level of state government in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and is also in common use at the local government level.
Article I, Section I of the United States Constitution vests "all legislative powers herein granted" to the Congress of the United States. Establishing a national initiative procedure would likely require an amendment to the Constitution, which would under Article V require two-thirds of both houses of Congress or the application of two-thirds of the state legislatures to propose, and three-fourths of all state legislatures (or conventions in three-fourths of the states) to ratify. The Constitution itself, pursuant to Article VII, was ratified by state conventions rather than by a referendum.
Several proposals have been made to institute a national referendum. The Ludlow Amendment, introduced several times to the House of Representatives by Louis Ludlow, of Indiana, between 1935 and 1940, proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would require a national referendum to declare war except in the case of invasion or attack. The amendment came closest to overcoming a discharge petition on January 10, 1938, when it was defeated in the House by a vote of 209 to 188. That was short of the two-thirds vote required for its passage.
Unsuccessful attempts to get initiatives have nevertheless occurred, but since the proposals were bills, not a constitutional amendments, no initiative could probably have lawfully been voted on notwithstanding the bills' passage. The first attempt to get national ballot initiatives occurred in 1907 when House Joint Resolution 44 was introduced by Rep. Elmer Fulton of Oklahoma; the proposal was never put to a vote. In 1977, both the Abourezk-Hatfield National Voter Initiative and the Jagt Resolutions never got out of committee. Senator Mike Gravel was part of that effort.
The modern system of initiative and referendum originated in the state of South Dakota, which adopted initiative and referendum in 1898 by a popular vote of 23,816 to 16,483. Oregon was the second state to adopt and did so in 1902, when the Oregon Legislative Assembly adopted it by an overwhelming majority. The "Oregon System," as it was at first known, subsequently spread to many other states, and became one of the signature reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s).
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- "Find out more about e-petitions". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
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- United States Constitution, Article I, Section I