This week ballot papers are landing in post boxes all across Switzerland. That’s right: it’s referendum time. Again. This is the land of direct democracy, where the people have their say on any and every issue so it’s no surprise that there is a vote every three months, and a constant stream of initiatives, campaigns and proposals. It is the only part of Swiss politics that is truly interesting.
The three national votes this time neatly highlight the issues on which the Swiss are asked to decide. One is about foreign affairs (Switzerland’s relationship with Europe), one about domestic policy (railway funding) and one on a social issue (abortion). And that’s the strength of the Swiss system: let the people decide. Switzerland truly is a People’s Republic.
The first vote is the one getting all the press. An initiative from the SVP (the main right-wing party) seeks to re-introduce immigration quotas and re-negotiate the free movement of people agreement with the EU. It argues that excessive immigration has led to overcrowding, flat shortages, higher prices and lower wages.
Most of the other parties (and the government) disagree saying that the the agreement has helped Switzerland’s prosperity and access to export markets, so that re-negotiating it could ruin everything. Rather bizarrely both poster campaigns feature an apple tree, the Yes one with its roots strangling Switzerland, the No one with the tree being chopped down.
Vote No2 is a constitutional amendment to provide for long-term investment in the railway network. Known as Fabi, it would provide more trains and more seats, plus more services to every region and for freight, all for an initial cost of 6.4 billion francs. At least that’s what the government claims but the SVP disagrees, saying that it ignores the roads and will cost consumers more.
Last is an initiative from conservative Christians on the funding of abortion, proposing that it no longer be covered by compulsory health insurance. Abortion in Switzerland has been legal since 2002, after 72% of the population voted in favour of legalising it in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and it has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world.
Changing the constitution needs a majority of voters (ie 50.1% of the vote) and a majority of cantons to say yes.
The latest opinion polls from Swiss TV suggest a clear no-yes-no to the three votes on 9 February. But the question is – how would you vote? If you’re Swiss, you can at least vote so make sure you do. And if you’re not, then it’s an interesting thought to decide for yourself on each matter.
Limit immigration and maybe risk damaging the economy and EU relations? Or say no and carry on with the influx of immigrants that might do many of the jobs the Swiss don’t want to but also produce other problems in society. Guarantee public funding for public transport or invest in the road network? Privatise abortion and reduce insurance premiums or risk going back to back-street abortions?
The choice is yours.