el-Wakil, Alice. 2020. “Supporting Deliberative Systems with Referendums and Initiatives.” In Journal of Deliberative Democracy 16 (2), 37–45. DOI: 10.16997/jdd.403. [open access]
el-Wakil, Alice and Spencer McKay. 2020. Introduction to the Special Issue “Beyond ‘Direct Democracy’: Referendums in Democratic Systems.” In Representation: Journal of Representative Democracy 56 (4), 435-337. [.pdf]
el-Wakil, Alice and Spencer McKay. 2020. “Disentangling Referendums and Direct Democracy: A Defence of the Systemic Approach to Popular Vote Processes.” Representation: Journal of Representative Democracy 56 (4), 449-466. DOI: 10.1080/00344893.2019.1652203. [.pdf]
Cheneval, Francis and Alice el-Wakil. 2018. The Institutional Design of Referendums: Bottom-Up and Binding. Swiss Political Science Review 24 (3): 294-304. DOI: 10.1111/spsr.12319. [.pdf]
el-Wakil, Alice and Francis Cheneval. 2018. Designing Popular Vote Processes to Enhance Democratic Systems. Swiss Political Science Review 24 (3): 348-358. DOI: 10.1111/spsr.12318. [.pdf]
el-Wakil, Alice. 2017. The Deliberative Potential of Facultative Referendums: Procedure and Substance in Direct Democracy. Democratic Theory 4 (1): 59-78. DOI: 10.3167/dt.2017.040104. [.pdf]
Edited special issues
el-Wakil, Alice and Spencer McKay (eds.). 2020. Special issue “Beyond ‘Direct Democracy’: Referendums in Democratic Systems.” Representation: Journal of Representative Democracy 56 (4).
Cheneval, Francis and Alice el-Wakil. 2018. Introduction to the Debate: Do Referendums Enhance or Threaten Democracy? In Swiss Political Science Review 24(3), 291–293. DOI:10.1111/spsr.12320.
el-Wakil, Alice. 2014. Invisible injustice : les enjeux de la ‘belle apparence’ en théorie politique. Geneva Laboratory of Political Science: Green Lab (2).
el-Wakil, Alice. 2020. Review of Centripetal Democracy: Democratic Legitimacy and Political Identity in Belgium, Switzerland, and the European Union, by J. Lacey. Acta Politica 55 (1): 131-133. DOI: 10.1057/s41269-018-0100-6.
el-Wakil, Alice. 2016. Review of Clientelism, Social Policy and the Quality of Democracy, by D. Abente Brun and L. Diamond (eds.). Political Studies Reviews 14 (1): 63. DOI: 10.1177/1478929915609467.
Reconsidering “direct democracy”
Should we include popular vote processes, namely referendums and initiatives, in our democratic systems, or rather preserve conventional representative systems? Democratic theorists have widely rejected the intensifying calls for “More direct democracy!” and promoted conventional representative systems. Yet, objections to popular vote processes generally display important weaknesses: they conflate referendum and initiative processes with a model of “direct democracy,” assumed to be fundamentally opposed to that of “representative democracy”; they ignore the diversity popular vote processes’ institutional design; and they pay close to no attention to the ways in which these processes interact with other political processes and impact democratic systems at large.
In this project, I uncover these problematic assumptions and propose both new answers to existing objections to them and refinments of the role and value of popular vote processes in democratic systems. Besides several of the publications listed on this page, I am currently developing a book project, Government with the People: Referendums in Democratic Systems (working title). In very short, this book argues that democratic systems including a specific kind of popular vote processes – facultative referendums, which empower nonelected actors to demand a popular vote on laws or policies recently adopted by legislators – should be favored over conventional representative systems.
Citizens’ assemblies in Switzerland
The Swiss political system is well known for its “direct democracy” – the popular vote processes that enable citizens to vote on all constitutional amendments (mandatory referendums) and to demand popular votes on laws recently adopted by elected representatives (facultative referendums), but also on policy proposals drafted by groups of the civil society (popular initiatives). Oriented towards decision-making, these processes offer few options to promote inclusive and informed political discussion among citizens. The literature on democratic innovations suggests that this limitation could be overcome by instituting assemblies of randomly selected citizens – citizens’ assemblies. In this project, led by Nenad Stojanović (University of Geneva), we organize and study the first experiences of citizens’ assemblies in Switzerland.
I am involved as a scientific collaborator in the organization of two kinds of citizens’ assemblies: