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Popular initiative

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Signature collection point at The Body Shop in Kluuvi shopping centre, Helsinki, for one of the first citizens' initiatives in Finland, about banning fur farming.

A popular initiative (also citizens' initiative) is a form of direct democracy by which a petition meeting certain hurdles can force a legal procedure on a proposition.

In direct initiative, the proposition is put directly to a plebiscite or referendum, also called a popular initiated referendum or citizen-initiated referendum.

In an indirect initiative, the proposed measure is first referred to the legislature, and then if the proposed law is rejected by the legislature, the government may be forced to put the proposition to a referendum. The proposition may be on federal level law, statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment, local ordinance, obligate the executive or legislature to consider the subject by submitting it to the order of the day. In contrast, a popular referendum that allows voters only to repeal existing legislation.[1]

The hurdles the petition has to meet vary between countries, typically a certain number of signatures by registered voters, to prevent a flood of frivolous measures on the ballot.[2] It's been argued that a signature hurdle does not always determine popular support since the signature hurdle can be achieved through hiring a professional company to gather signatures.[3][4] Instead of a signature hurdle an state-sponsored public opinion poll as hurdle has been proposed.[3]

The success of a popular initiative depends on the exact wording.[2]

By type


Direct initiative


A direct initiative places an initiative measure directly on the ballot for voters to pass or reject. The measure is not submitted to the legislature for support first.

Indirect initiative


An indirect initiative is voted on by a legislature after sufficient signatures are collected from the voting population. In most areas the measure is submitted to a subsequent popular vote only if amended by the legislature.

Agenda setting initiative


An agenda setting initiative is a measure submitted by petition to a legislature for consideration. The legislature may choose to approve or reject the proposal without a public vote.[5] This form or initiative is more common than a legally binding direct or indirect initiative.

By country








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.


British Columbia

The Canadian province of British Columbia has a citizen initiative law known as the Recall and Initiative Act.[6] 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, at least 14 attempts have been made to force the government to either adopt a law or to hold a referendum on the question, but only one has succeeded.[7] 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, in September 2011 on the subject of repealing the Harmonized Sales Tax. Details of its use in BC are available on the Elections BC website.[8]

United States


In the United States, a popular vote on a measure is referred to as a referendum only when aiming at allowing or repealing an act passed by a state legislature. An initiative may be called a "ballot measure", "initiative measure", or "proposition".[citation needed]

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,[9] 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.[10] 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, 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 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 initiatives and referendums in the United States originated in the state of South Dakota, which adopted initiatives and referendums 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). Almost every state currently in the union utilizes some sort of State Question or Initiative. A contemporary issue that is commonly decided through this method is the legalization of marijuana.





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.[11] The law defines initiative as:

  1. A petition to propose amendments to the constitution.
  2. A petition to propose enactment of national legislation.
  3. 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.



European Union


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.[12] 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.[13] 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[14] 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).[15]

It remains to be seen if the ECI evolves into a full initiative or remains in its present state of a de facto petition.[16][17]



Since 1 March 2012, Finnish citizens with suffrage have had the constitutional right to send a citizens' initiative (Finnish: kansalaisaloite, Swedish: medborgarinitiativ) to the Parliament of Finland. An initiative must begin with at least five citizens as sponsors, and it must consist either of a direct proposal for a new law or of a motion to initiate the drafting of a new law by the relevant government department, as well as present reasons for doing so. A single initiative may not contain proposals on more than one specific legislative issue.

Proposed initiatives are published on a website maintained by the Finnish Ministry of Justice, where they may be electronically signed; signatures are also collected on paper. If an initiative is able to attract the signatures of a total of 50,000 citizens within six months, it is forwarded to the Finnish Parliament for consideration; otherwise, it will lapse. The Parliament treats citizens' initiatives according to normal parliamentary procedure, that is, they are debated and considered in committees and they may also be amended or altered; the Parliament is not restricted to passing or rejecting them as they are.

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[18][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[19][circular reference].[20][21]



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. Citizens are able to submit a law project to the parliament through the "Référendum d'Initiative Partagée"; they can ask for a referendum if they meet the 185 deputies requirement and the signatures of at least 10% of the voting population.



All German states have the right to initiative.[22] 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.[23] Since 2012, the Oireachtas (parliament) has a joint committee to which the public can submit petitions;[24] the committee must formally consider them but need not accept them.[25][26][27] In May–June 2013, when the Constitutional Convention considered Dáil electoral reform, members voted 83:16 in favour of allowing "citizens' initiatives" in general,[28] 80:19 to allow them specifically for legislation,[29] and 78:17 to allow them for constitutional amendments.[29] 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.[25]

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.[30][23] 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.[31] Before the committee could meet, the Cumann na nGaedheal government rushed through an amendment deleting Article 48 of the Constitution.[32][33][34][35]



Citizens' legislative initiatives are a constitutional right in Poland, defined in Article 118, paragraph 2, of the 1997 Polish Constitution. The paragraph gives legislative initiative to any group of at least 100,000 citizens with voting rights to the Sejm, the lower house of Polish parliament. The detailed procedure is defined in a law dated 24 June 1999.[36]

Under Article 5 of the 24 June 1999 law, citizens wishing to launch an initiative must create a committee of at least 15 members, which becomes a legal person. The committee must prepare the draft bill and collect at least 100,000 signatures (Article 2). Under Article 12 of the law, if there is "justified doubt regarding the authenticity of the required number of signatures of citizens, then within 14 days of the lodging of the list of signatures, the Marshal of the Sejm must request the National Electoral Commission to verify the signatures. The electoral commission has 21 days to carry out the verification.[36]

One of the best known citizens' initiatives in Poland is the pair of 2015/2016 anti-abortion and pro-abortion initiatives which were accompanied by the Black Protest marches coordinated by women's rights groups.[37]

In October 2022, United Poland submitted a citizens' legislative initiative for tougher blasphemy laws in Poland with close to 400,000 (Higher than the 100,000 needed) signatures to parliament.[38][39]



According to Article 74 of the Romanian Constitution,[40] 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[41] 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[42] 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[43]) 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.

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 (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.[44] Examples of issues which have been debated in parliament via this system are various issues surrounding Brexit and a petition calling for United States President Donald Trump's state visit to UK to be cancelled.[45]



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.

See also





  • Constitutional Convention (August 2013). "Fourth Report of the Convention on the Constitution: Dáil Electoral System". Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2016.


  1. ^ Initiative, Referendum and Recall, NCSL.org
  2. ^ a b Richard J. Ellis, Signature Gathering in the Initiative Process: How Democratic Is It?, 64 Mont. L. Rev. (2003).
  3. ^ a b Garrett, Elizabeth. "Money, agenda setting, and direct democracy." Tex. L. Rev. 77 (1998): 1845.
  4. ^ Berman, David R. The Future of 'direct Democracy' in Arizona: Petition Circulators, Election Officials and the Law. Morrison Institute for Public Policy, 2014.
  5. ^ "Agenda (setting) initiative - Navigator". www.direct-democracy-navigator.org. Retrieved 2021-04-14.
  6. ^ "Table of Contents - Recall and Initiative Act". Bclaws.ca. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  7. ^ "Summary of Initiative Petitions" (PDF). Elections BC. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  8. ^ "Initiative | Elections BC". Elections.bc.ca. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  9. ^ "State by state listing of where initiatives and referendums are used". Iandrinstitute.org. Archived from the original on 2016-02-11. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
  10. ^ United States Constitution, Article I, Section I
  11. ^ Joselito Guianan Chan, Managing Partner, Chan Robles & Associates Law Firm (1989-08-04). "Philippine Laws, Statutes And Codes - Chan Robles Virtual Law Library". Chanrobles.com. Retrieved 2012-09-14.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "EU Bookshop - Not found!". bookshop.europa.eu. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  13. ^ cs - čeština. "Texts adopted - Thursday, 7 May 2009 - Implementation of the citizens' initiative - P6_TA-PROV(2009)0389". Europarl.europa.eu. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  14. ^ "Parliament : Petitions". Europarl.europa.eu. 2000-12-18. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  15. ^ Open initiatives at the European Citizens' Initiative official register of The European Commission (often translated in EU-languages). Retrieved 2013-09-05.
  16. ^ "European Citizens' Initiative on the European Commission's web". Ec.europa.eu. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  17. ^ European Citizens' Initiative on the initiator's web:
  18. ^ Same-sex marriage in Finland
  19. ^ fi:Kansalaisaloite
  20. ^ "Citizens' initiatives in Finland". Ministry of Justice of Finland. Archived from the original on 2013-06-02. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
  21. ^ Note: the text is an unofficial translation used by the Ministry of Justice of Finland.
  22. ^ "Volksbegehrensbericht 2019" (PDF) (in German). Mehr Demokratie. p. 12. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  23. ^ a b Constitutional Convention 2013; §5.3.2 "Background"
  24. ^ Barry, Aoife (14 September 2012). "How does the new public petitions system work?". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  25. ^ a b "Written Answer No.225: Constitutional Convention Recommendations". Dáil Éireann debates. Oireachtas. 21 April 2015. p. 56. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  26. ^ "Joint Committee on Public Petitions". Oireachtas. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  27. ^ "Public petitions". Ireland: Citizens Information Board. 10 October 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  28. ^ Constitutional Convention 2013; §2 Question 9
  29. ^ a b Constitutional Convention 2013; §2 Question 10
  30. ^ "Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act, 1922, Schedule 1". Irish Statute Book. Article 48. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  31. ^ Dáil Éireann debates (1928) Vol.28: 16 May cc1498–1532, 18 May cc1721–70, 23 May cc1898–1926, 1 June cc2519–47.
  32. ^ "Constitution (Amendment No. 10) Bill, 1928—Second Stage". Dáil Éireann Debates. 15 June 1928. pp. Vol.24 No.6 p.3 cc694–721. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  33. ^ Hogan, Gerard (2012). "Chapter One". The Origins of the Irish Constitution, 1928-1941. Documents editor Eoin Kinsella. Royal Irish Academy. ISBN 9781904890751.
  34. ^ Mansergh, Nicholas (2007) [1934]. "The Referendum and the Initiative". The Irish Free State - Its Government and Politics. Read. pp. 142–3. ISBN 978-1406720358.
  35. ^ "Constitution (Amendment No. 10) Act 1928". Irish Statute Book. 12 July 1928. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  36. ^ a b "Ustawa z dnia 24 czerwca 1999 r. o wykonywaniu inicjatywy ustawodawczej przez obywateli" [Law of 24 June 1999 on the execution of a citizens' legislative initiative] (PDF). Dziennik Ustaw (in Polish). 2018-11-08. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-06-18. Retrieved 2020-11-13.
  37. ^ "'Czarny protest' przed Sejmem" ['Black protest' in front of the Sejm]. Puls Biznesu (in Polish). 2016-10-01. Archived from the original on 2020-11-13. Retrieved 2020-11-13.
  38. ^ ""Insulting or ridiculing church" to be jailable crime under bill supported by Polish justice minister". 7 October 2022.
  39. ^ "Blasphemy law Poland may be toughened".
  40. ^ "CONSTITUTIA ROMANIEI". 31 July 2018. pp. Article 74.
  41. ^ "CONSTITUTIA ROMANIEI". 31 July 2018. pp. Article 150.
  42. ^ "CONSTITUTIA ROMANIEI". 31 July 2018. pp. Article 151.
  43. ^ Eidgenössische Volksinitiative Archived 2013-08-20 at the Wayback Machine, website of "The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation" (German, possible to switch to French or Italien language). Retrieved 2013-09-04.
  44. ^ "Find out more about e-petitions". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  45. ^ Cheung, Helier (2019-03-26). "Brexit debate: Do petitions ever work?". Retrieved 2019-12-16.

Further reading

  • Piott, Steven L. Giving Voters a Voice: The Origins of the Initiative and Referendum in America (2003) online



United States