Four more months to go in 2016 and one billion citizens around the globe are about to make their voices heard at the ballot box - in hundreds of elections and referendums from Russia to Hong Kong, Iceland to the United States of America.
Following the news in a lot of the media, you could easily get the impression that this year just two mayor ballot box exercises are taking place: Brexit and the US Presidency. And while the popular vote on British EU membership delivered a true electoral earthquake, the race for the White House seems far less competitive than expected - in spite of hundreds of running hopefuls.
But there is so much more to democracy in the autumn of 2016 that most of us realize. Just in the United States, citizens across 35 states have been active in qualifying their own proposals for the November 8 ballot. At this stage more than 70 statewide initiatives have managed to gather enough support for the a final decision by voters; that´s more than double the number of initiatives as two years ago. The measures cover contentious issues, including legalizing marijuana, controlling guns, or establishing universal health care. Together with other issues already voted at the state level this year, 2016 will become one the most active years for modern direct democracy in the 240-year history of the United States.
This trend of popular votes is not limited to established democracies like the US, despite what you may have heard about a supposed retreat of democracy across the globe. The world will see a long list of upcoming ballot decisions in a great number of jurisdictions worldwide.
Hong-Kong hopes and…
On September 4, the voters of Hong-Kong will elect their parliament, amidst a long-lasting battle with the one-party regime in China about the promised direct election of Hong Kong´s executive. Other more or less democratic exercises are scheduled on September 11 in Belarus and September 18 in the Russian Federation. In both cases autocratic governments are balancing their unwillingness to permit people power with some official intention not to become fully totalitarian. This offers supporters of more democracy in these countries at least some room for manoeuvre.
In September there will also be Parliament elections in countries such as Croatia (Sept. 11), Jordan (20th), Zambia (20th) the Basque Country (25th) and the Netherlands (30th), while Swiss citizens are invited to decide until the 25th on referendum on reform of the intelligence services, an initiative on the economy, and an initiative to boost old-age pensions.
The month of October starts with an Austro-Hungarian double bill. First comes a repeat of the May 22 election, because of administrative irregularities and a successful court appeal of the results by the far-right loser of the election, Norbert Hofer. On the very same day, Hungarians are called to vote a plebiscite initiated by President Victor Urban to prohibit the European Union from imposing binding quotas for refugees on the country.
October 2 brings a historic popular vote in Colombia on whether citizens wish to approve a 297-page peace accord with the leftist FARC-rebels, ending a 50-year-old conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and driven more than 5 million people from their homes.And October will also see many Parliament elections around the world, including in Morocco (October 7), Georgia (8), Lithuania (9), Afghanistan (15), Iceland (29) and Montenegro (31). November brings the world to Bulgaria, where, on Nov. 6, alongside the Presidential election, three citizens-initiated popular votes will take place: on a new (majoritarian) election system, compulsory voting and the reduction of state subsidy to political parties. For each of these proposals a famous TV moderator had gathered more than 400,000 signatures. Again Parliament elections are held across the globe in November, including the Palau (Nov. 1), Nicaragua (6), Congo (27) and Guyana (30). The Swiss will have their final opportunity of the year to make a constitutional amendment on the 27th. The issue: the closure of nuclear energy plants.
Transnational citizens’ initiatives
Reaching the last month of the year, the world faces both presidential and parliament elections in countries like Gambia (December 1), Ghana (7), Macedonia (11) and Sudan. And none of this counts the thousands of regional and local races around the world this fall, including local votes across New South Wales in Australia (September 10) and across many New Zealand cities in October. Last but not least there are three transnational citizens initiatives in the European Union, with 12-month signature gathering periods that will end this autumn: on road transportation (September 14), stopping plastic in the seas (October 19) and marriage protection (December 11). Those measures, if they attract enough go not to the ballot, but to the European Commission, which could well consider them in early 2017.