Daniel Kübler, Professor of Democracy and Public Governance at UZH and Co-Director of the Swiss Center for Democracy Studies, shared insights into the most recent “World of Referendums” report with Australian interlocutors over breakfast at the Swiss Embassy in Canberra, Australia.
In recent years, the quality of democracy has been declining globally. But despite democratic backsliding and autocratization, the frequency of referendum voting is consistently high. This is not only the case in Switzerland, but also in Australia, both of which have mature, stable and sophisticated democratic systems and underlying political cultures. However, referendums are also used in autocratic contexts. This observation has implications for understanding the functionality of referendum voting and raises new issues in the reflection on (direct) democratic integrity.
Opportunity of mutual learning
Daniel Kübler, who spent some time teaching a summer school at the Center for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra, was invited by the Swiss Embassy in Canberra to share his perspective and research insights on direct democracy with an interested expert audience, including fellow researchers, members of Australia’s electoral commission, and civil society representatives from Australia’s capital. The roundtable provided an opportunity for mutual learning, enabling participants to explore the unique features and customs of various political systems.
As former Academic Director of the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) “Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century” – a large, multidisciplinary research program in Switzerland –, Daniel Kübler is a leading expert in questions related to the study of direct democracy. Asked about what foreign audiences find interesting about the Swiss political system, he said “many people are impressed about the frequency of popular votes and are interested in the conditions under which direct democracy provides for political stability”.
During the exchange, Australian guests expressed interest in Switzerland’s direct-democratic instruments and citizen participation, discussing ways to uphold a fair and equitable political system.
Recent findings from the "World of Referendums" report, tracking global referendums since 1994, were shared with Australian officials. The report is published by published by the Center for Democracy Aarau (ZDA).
Daniel Kübler has long-standing experience in democracy research. At UZH, he is Professor for Democracy and Public Governance at IPZ at UZH, as well as Head of Department at the Centre for Democracy Study since 2009. .
The event took place at the Swiss Embassy in Canberra. From left to right: Caroline Bichet-Anthamatten (Ambassador of Switzerland to Australia, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu), Tom Rogers (Australian Electoral Commissioner), Daniel Kübler (UZH).
UZH maintains strong and multifaceted partnerships with Australian research institutions. In February 2021, the University of Queensland and UZH signed a strategic alliance agreement and have since increased collaborations in fields such as criminal law, healthy ageing, plant science and psychology.
Through UZH’s membership in the global university network Universitas 21 (U21), close collaboration and exchange is maintained with other leading Australian universities, including the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, and the University of New South Wales.
A popular exchange destination
Australia has also been one of the most popular exchange destinations for students at UZH. Almost 100 UZH students attended courses at Australian universities as part of an exchange semester or year between 2017 and 2022 – despite the various lockdowns during the pandemic. During the same time, UZH counted over 200 Australian exchange students and attendees of the UZH International Summer Schools.
These international research collaborations and student and faculty exchanges are an important pillar of Switzerland’s close and interconnected relationship with Australia.