In political science, an 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.
1. By type Direct initiative
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.
2.1. By country Brazil
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.
2.2. By country European Union
The rejected Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe TCE included a limited indirect initiative right Article I-464). 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 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.
It remains to be seen if the ECI evolves into a full initiative or remains in its present state of a de facto petition.
2.3. By country Finland
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. 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.
2.4. By country France
A limited, indirect form of local initiative was added to the French Constitution article 72-1, referendum dinitiative 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 assemblys 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.
2.5. By country Germany
All German states have the right to initiative. However, there is no constitutional citizens initiative in Germany at a federal level.
2.6. By country Ireland
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 Dail 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 Fail, the largest opposition party, which sought to abolish the Oath of Allegiance. By May 1928 Fianna Fail claimed 96.000 signatures and attempted to have the petition laid before the Dail lower house. The motion was deferred, ostensibly to allow the Dail 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.
2.7. By country New Zealand
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.
2.8. By country Philippines
Peoples 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 local resolution or ordinance on regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay level.
A petition to propose enactment of national legislation.
The law also provides indirect initiative defining the exercise of peoples initiative through a proposition sent to congress or local legislative body for action.
2.9. By country Romania
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.
2.10. By country Switzerland
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.
2.11. By country United Kingdom
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 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 Trumps state visit to UK to be cancelled.
2.12. By country United States
In the United States, a popular vote on a measure is referred to as a referendum only when originating with the legislature. An initiative may be called a "ballot measure", "initiative measure", or "proposition".
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.