Launching such initiatives is not difficult: it requires the collection of 100,000 signatures within 18 months. Initiatives have to clear two hurdles to become law: they require the backing of a majority of voters and of the cantons.
But of the 403 initiatives launched since 1893 (a little over three per year, on average), only 175 went to a vote. The remaining initiatives either
failed to get the required number of signatures, were withdrawn by their backers, or were declared invalid. Of the 175 initiatives that have been put to a vote, just 18 have been adopted.
But this has not diminished Switzerland's appetite for citizens' initiatives. A striking number of initiatives have pushed socially conservative, even illiberal, causes, and a good number of these have been approved. It started in 1893 with a ban on slaughtering animals without stunning them beforehand – launched by anti-Semites (with support from animal-rights campaigners). In 2008, the Swiss approved an initiative lifting the statute of limitations on sexual crimes involving minors; in 2009, there was a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets; and in 2010, they made it mandatory to expel foreigners convicted of serious crimes.