June 8 (Reuters) - The Swiss parliament is debating whether to allow a facultative referendum on a Swiss-U.S. tax deal that would could derail an agreement to deliver bank data of 4,450 UBS clients who dodge U.S. taxes to Washington.[ID:nLDE6570NF]
Frequent referendums are a key element of Switzerland’s unique tradition of direct democracy and a central feature of political life. In Switzerland, referendums are held at federal, cantonal and municipal level. It is not the government’s choice whether or when a referendum is held, but it is a legal procedure regulated by the Swiss constitution.
There are three types of referendums:
** Facultative referendum: Any federal law, certain federal resolutions, and international treaties that are perpetual or irredeemable, joinings of an international organization, or that change Swiss law may be subject to a facultative referendum if at least 50,000 people or eight cantons have petitioned to do so within 100 days of its coming into force. Within cantons and municipalities, the required number of people is smaller.
The facultative referendum is the most common type of referendum, and it is mostly carried out by political parties or by interest groups.
** Obligatory referendum: it takes place at national level on any amendment of the constitution and decisions to join multinational community or an organization for collective security.
*** Citizen’s initiative: while the two previous types of referendums are votes on existing legislation, this type of referendum gives citizens the right to initiate law.
Citizen’s initiatives at the federal level need to collect 100,000 valid signatures within 18 months, and must not contradict international laws or treaties. (Reporting by Christopher Barnett, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Louise Heavens)