Traditional and Modern Forms of Direct Democracy

Direct Democracy involves the concept of exercise of state power directly by the people.

Several staunch supporters of democracy and popular sovereignty hold that. Direct Democracy alone is the real democracy.

Indirect Democracy is unreal because no one, not even elected representatives can really represent the people and use power on behalf of the people.

The critics of Indirect Democracy argue that people should have the direct power of law-making and only then can the laws be fully based on public opinion.

In other words, they stand for Direct Democracy which is held superior to Indirect Democracy.

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Traditional Form of Direct Democracy:

Traditionally, as for example in the traditional Indian panchayat system, the people used to directly participate in exercising legislative and executive powers. They used to get the opportunity to transform their wills into legislation by direct participation in the law-making process. Such a system-still prevails in Switzerland under the name Landesgemeinde.

In three Swiss Cantons, the people directly formulate the laws that govern them. Under it, all the people of a Canton (state) together constitute the cantonal assembly and they collectively formulate all laws. Landesgemeinde is the purest form of democracy in which the sovereign power of the people is directly exercised by the assembly of all the citizens. In some other states, for example in the United States and Australia some of the federal units have a system of direct law-making by ‘town meetings’.

Modern Form of Direct Democracy:

The existence of big states with very large populations and the increased scope and complex nature of law-making, have together made it virtually impossible for the people to adopt direct democracy involving direct legislation by ‘primary meetings’ of all the people. Landesgemeinde continues to operate in three Swiss Cantons only because of their very small sizes, small populations and a very high level of literacy.


In contemporary times, Direct Democracy can work only through its modern devices-Referendum, Initiative Pletrscite and Recall. These instruments of Direct Democracy can be used even along with the system of elected representatives of the people who constitute the legislature. Direct Democracy is has been successfully in operation in Switzerland. The Swiss people have been using these modern devices of Direct Democracy.

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