Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 58

Appendix F

Appendix F.


The following account of the "Association Réformiste"of Geneva is the translation of an extract from the latest publication of the Society :—

"Exposition et Défense du système de la liste Libre, publiées par le bureau de l'Association Réformiste."*

The events of the 22nd August, 1864, attracted great attention to the state of Geneva. The universal expression of the press of Switzerland pointed to our electoral system as one of the causes of the evil, and Mr, Jæger, President of the National Council, as the organ of the general opinion of the Confederation, declared in his opening speech (September, 1864) that "the political organization of Geneva creates systematically the periodical return of excessive agitation,"and that such a state of things creates "a real danger, not for the canton of Geneva only, but for the whole of Switzerland."Reform was urgently required, but how to accomplish it ? It was indispensable that it should have an impartial basis, and this seemed impossible, considering the violent division of parties. Every proposition made by one side was in danger of rejection by the other without examination. The Federal Commissioners sent to Geneva can describe the depth of the wound which they examined with such great anxiety. The founders of the Reform Association undertook to solve this difficult problem, and they have perfectly succeeded. Men of all opinions assisted in the attempt to discover a system of elections, the character of which should be just and true. The 15th January, 1865, they drew up a programme which laid down the following principles:—

"Representation of all; government by the majority.

"The electors are equal. Citizens of a sufficient number to be represented have all the same right to representation.

"The election of deputies should be an equitable and peaceful manifestation of the true state of the country, and not a struggle, the result of which is to deprive a part of the electors of their right to representation."

This programme was immediately signed by citizens of both parties, and the Association rapidly increased in numbers; reform had been initiated upon an impartial basis.

On the 15th of February, 1865, a statute was made by the Association, explaining its precise end and means of action. "The Reform Association is a free society; the purpose of which is to enlighten public opinion on the necessity of electoral reform, and to study the principles of this

* Genève, Librairie H. Georg. Corratorie 10.

page 68 reform and their practical application."It repudiated all intention of interfering in its character of an associated body with the constituted authorities, and renounced all pretension of representing public opinion or the will of the people, or of using any pressure on the Grand Council. Its wish was to establish a representative system on its right basis, not to overthrow its foundations. "The members of the Association may present petitions to the Grand Council, making use, as citizens, of the prerogative which Article 12 of the Constitution confers on thorn, but the representatives of the Association cannot presume to address the Grand Council as envoys of a constituted body exercising a collective action"(Article 5).

The Association, thus founded, elected a committee of forty-four members, charged with preparing and directing its deliberations. This Council worked actively, and on December 18th, 1865, submitted a detailed report to a general meeting. This report has been published under the title of "Reform of the Electoral System" * The present system of elections is therein declared to be wanting in justice and truth, contrary to the liberty of the electors and deputies, and encouraging dissension among the citizens. After this critique follows a study of different proposed remedies. The system of "listes incomplêtes,"and that of electoral districts (arrondissements) are rejected after serious examination, and the remedy is shown to be in a change of the principle of the election itself. At present, the deputies for all are chosen by the majority only. This is the root of the evil. The principle to be adopted is this: there is one deputy to a certain number of electors. This number (electoral quotient) is obtained by dividing the number of electors by that of the deputies. Let us call that number of electors of the same opinions an electoral group. The electoral group has a right to a representation,—this is the essential principle at the root of the programme of the Reform Association.

The general meeting of the 18th December, 1865, unanimously declared, after a long debate, that the new system was worthy of serious consideration, and directed the attention of the Council to the method of accomplishing it.

The Council conscientiously acquitted itself of its task. On April 3rd, 1866, it submitted a detailed plan for the application of the new system to the General Assembly. Their plan has been published under the title of

The Practical Method of the New Electoral System." This plan was prepared according to the ideas of M. le notaire Rivoire, and much resembles the proposal of an English writer, Mr. Hare, whose works are more and more attracting the attention of European publicists.

Matters had reached this point when the scenes of November 11th, 1866, disclosed once more the consequences of our electoral system. The Reform Association met under the excitement of these events, and on the 26th November determined to present a petition immediately to the Grand Council. This petition requested the legislative authorities to appoint a special commission to consider a constitutional reform of the elections. "Appoint a commission charged with this important investigation. Let its members obtain all the information within their reach; let them invite and welcome the expressions of opinion from all honest men on the subject;

* Réforme du Système Electoral, rapport présenté au Conseil de l'Association, le 21 Novembre, 1865, et discuté dans l'Assemblée du 18 Décembre, 1865.

Pratique du Nouveau Système Electoral (Système pour du Quotient) rapport présenté au Conseil de l'Association, le 20 Mars, 1866.

page 69 let them work patiently and deliberately, and let them bring to yon at last the mature result of their labours, which, after having been subjected to your deliberation, may at length be proposed as worthy of the sanction of the highest authorities."The petition requested that the system proposed by the Reform Association should first be investigated. "New ideas upon a really just system of representation have been springing up in various parts of Europe, and have attracted special attention in our country. We beg to call your serious consideration to this subject, and entreat you not to reject prematurely reforms which might place us at the head of the Confederation in the excellent work of realizing a true representative system."

In the second place, and in case of insurmountable obstacles being found to this proposition, the petitioners desired the Council to turn its attention on the institutions of Switzerland. "If these ideas are too novel to be admitted at once, and if they appear impracticable, we hope that you will at least confer on our canton an electoral system analogous to that which shall appear to be the best among the institutions of the rest of the Confederation."

The different publications of the Reform Association were presented at the same time as the petition to the Grand Council, and laid upon the table. The petitioners amounted to 2,290 in number. There have been more largely signed petitions; but when it is considered that it had not the support of any newspaper or influential political circle—that no energetic means were employed for obtaining signatures—that the directors of the enterprise were even accused of being wanting in zeal in their efforts to propagate their opinions, it will be seen that there has seldom been a more significant manifestation.

The Grand Council considered these proposals during its sittings of the 29th of December, 1806, and 7th of January, 1867. The speeches of some of the deputies, and their complaints of the Reform Association, seemed to show a want of precise knowledge of the facts of the case, and a misunderstanding of the feeling of respect for the constituted authorities, which dictated the form of the petition. The Grand Council itself gave a striking proof of respect for the petitioners by appointing a commission of nine of its members to examine into their demands, and make a report on the subject.

Either from the speeches of some of the deputies, or from the attitude of the Press or of general opinion, the result was that the pure system of electoral quotients was rejected as being contrary to our habits. Nothing was easier than to introduce the new principle into the frame of our institutions. The Council of the Reform Association directed its attention to this object, and presented in the system of free lists (listes libres) the realization of the principle as applied according to the present forms. It prepared a formal draft of the system to be introduced into the articles of the Constitution. The free list contains perfectly the fundamental principle of reform; the electoral group has a right to a representative, and is certain to obtain it. It is only necessary that the votes be given no longer for one name, but for a list. As compared with the pure quotient, the result limits the liberty of the individual, but this limit is the necessary consequence of voting by list, and voting by list is a concession to existing habits.

The Grand Council has therefore presented to it for its consideration, with a view to the reform of the system of elections,

1st. The pressing demand of 2,290 citizens, who pray the Council to give their earnest study to the question, and to take as the basis of such study, in the first place, the principles advocated by the Reform Association.

page 70

2ndly. The two practical methods for realizing these principles, of which the first is more theoretically complete, and the other more in accordance with our habits, and has been entirely framed even in detail. Nothing can be clearer than the requisitions addressed to the legislative authorities,—nothing more precise than the grounds upon which they are founded.

After a detailed comparison of former existing and proposed methods of election with that ultimately recommended by the Association, the exposition concludes with the following passages :—

"We have answered all the objections which have come to our knowledge. We shall continue to receive with true gratitude any serious remarks which may throw light on our way. The Reform Association asks only for more knowledge and for a discussion of its ideas at once profound and loyal. It wishes to fight only with the weapons of reason, and to attract only by the seductions of truth. It has avoided, with scrupulous care, all that might irritate or offend,—all manifestation other than the manifestation of its principles. Its statutes impose upon it respect for established authorities, and the propagation of a spirit of justice and equity in the relations of citizens to one another. It is faithful to these wise restrictions, and we entertain a firm hope that, if called to continue its work, its future will be worthy of its past. United at first by patriotic sentiment, by the spectacle of the ills of Geneva, and the earnest desire to do some good to our small but loved country, we have seen our horizon widen; we have understood increasingly the universal and supreme importance of the electoral question to all representative states, we have recognized more and more clearly that the reform we desire concerns in the highest degree the establishment of moral and social order in modern civilization. How happy should we be if we could succeed in kindling in our country a light, the rays of which should extend afar ! The elections of Geneva ! These words now awaken only bitter remembrances and dark forebodings. May the day arrive when all repressed opinions, all citizens whose liberty has been outraged, and whose dignity has been offended by vicious electoral systems, shall find expression for their aspirations in the same words, then become the symbol of ideas of justice, peace, and liberty—the elections of Geneva!

"Our legislators have a favourable opportunity for setting all party struggles at rest. Let them study with care and in earnest, in a pure spirit of patriotism and love of right, the great and noble question presented to them. Let them do so, and the public gratitude will not fail to be their reward."

The following is a complete catalogue of the different publications of L'Association Réformiste :—

La Patrie et les Partis, discours prononcé le 15 Février, 1865, par le Directeur Provisoire de l'Association Réformiste (M. E. Naville)—suivi du Programme de l'Association et de son Statut.—50 cent.

Rapport de M. Amberny à l'Assemblée Générale du 17 Mars, 1865, suivi d'une Pétition au Grand Conseil pour la Réforme des Procédés Electoraux. (Epuisé.)

Circulaire du Comité d'Administration, du 1er Septembre, 1865, relative à la réforme des procédés électoraux. (Epuisé.)

Réforme du Système Electoral, rapport présenté au Conseil de l'Association, le 21 Novembre, 1865, et discuté dans l'Assemblée Générale du 18 Décembre, 1865.—50 cent.

Pratique du Nouveau Système Electoral (Système pour du Quotient), rapport présenté au Conseil de l'Association, le 20 Mars, 1866.—30 cent.

page 71

Pétition au Grand Conseil pour la Réforme Electorale, texte de lapétition; discours et discussions de l'Assemblée Générale du 20 Novembre, 1866.—30 cent.

La Liste Libre, ou In Libre Concurrence des Listes, plan pour la Réforme des Elections du Grand Conseil, en maintenant les trois collèges actuels.—20 cent.

Tableau Comparatif du Système Actuel et du Système Nouveau.—20 cent.

Exposition et Défense du Système de la Liste Libre, suivies d'objections et de réponses.—1 fr.

Among other works from the Swiss press on the same subject, see :—

Des Systèmes Electoraux dans les Démocraties. Par M. Ed. Tallichet, Bibliothèque Universelle et Revue Suisse, LXXII. année. Mars, Avril, 1867. Lausanne.

In other countries the following works have appeared—

In Belgium :—

Etude Politique—Système Electoral proposé par M. Th. Hare. Par Ph. Bourson, Bruxelles. Imprimerie de C. Lebouf, Rue de Commerce, 25. 1864.

De la Réforme Electorale. Par M. Rolan-Jacquemyrs. Nurquardt, Bruxelles. 1865.

In Germany :—

Methode bei jeder Art von Wahlen sowohl der Mehrheit als der Minderherton die ihrer Stärke entsprechende Zahl von Vertretern zu sichern. Dargestellt von Dr. Gustav Burnitz und Dr. Georg Varrentrapp. Frankfurt-a-Maine. 1863.

Reports of Debates :—

Die Zeit, Frankfurt. 10 Dec., 1801; Frankfurter Reform, 15 May, 20 May, 24 May, 31 May, 1863. The Frankfurter Reform contains an article, by Gustav Getz, on the application of the system to the elections to their then Legislative Body (Gesetzgebenden Versamenlung) of that city.—(Quoted in the Treatise on Élection of Representatives, by Thomas Hare; 3rd ed., Longmans, 1865, p. 328.)

In Sweden :—

Representation för Minoriteterna genom Val-Lag, Föreslagen af Thomas Ilare, Esq. Ofversättning jemte förord af E. L—d. Upsala. Kongl. Akad. Boktryckeriet. 1866.

Henderson, Rait, and Fentor., Printers, Berners Street, Oxford Street.