The Swiss have voted to adopt tough new regulations on the deportation of foreigners convicted of serious crimes and welfare fraud.
Final results showed 53 per cent voting in favour of a rightwing initiative. The initiative also won the backing of 20 out of 26 cantons.
In a complex nationwide vote on Sunday, the electorate were faced with a choice between a hardline option and a compromise version; or approving or rejecting both proposals.
Turnout was higher than usual - at 52 per cent - a sign of how contentious were the issues being voted on.
The rightwing People's Party initiative called for the automatic expulsion of non-Swiss offenders convicted of crimes ranging from murder to breaking and entry and social security fraud. The proposal denies judges judicial discretion over deportation.
An alternative option by parliament would have allowed for a case-by-case examination and additional integration measures.
Parliament's counter-proposal was rejected by 54 per cent of voters, results showed.
An unofficial voting platform for migrants, Baloti, reported very different voting results: 85 per cent against the initiative, and 15 per cent for.
"In future, foreign nationals who have committed one of the criminal offences named in the text of the initiative should automatically lose their right of residence and be deported to their country of origin," said a government statement. It said Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga would "set to work on implementing the initiative without delay".
"The majority of voters have sent a clear signal that they consider foreign criminality to be a serious problem. The Federal Council [government] respects the will of the people and will set to work on putting the task confided in it into practice," it went on.
The government statement also pointed to problems in implementing the initiative, saying parliament would have to draft a list defining precisely which offences would result in deportation.
A statement by the People's Party said voters had sent a clear signal that "criminal foreigners should be systematically deported". It said the acceptance of the initiative marked "the first step on the road to greater security". The legal framework for the initiative's introduction had to be created as soon as possible, it said.
The Federal Migration Commission said the initiative would be very difficult to enforce. It said the state must not act arbitrarily in deporting foreigners, but judge each case individually.
"Even People's Party parliamentarians agree that no one should be sent back to a country to face torture or death. Automatic deportation, as demanded by the initiative, is therefore not possible," the commission said in a statement.
The main Christian churches, which had opposed both initiative and counter-proposal, called for deportations to continue to be judged on a case-by-case basis.
In a joint statement, the Swiss Federation of Protestant Churches and the Catholic Bishops Conference said the cantonal and federal authorities must ensure that implementation of the initiative conformed to the constitution. They also said it was important "not to cast a negative light on migrants".
In a separate vote, the electorate rejected a proposal by the centre-left and trade unions to set a minimum tax rate for wealthy citizens across the country.
Final results showed 58 per cent of voters and a majority of cantons voting against the initiative.
The Social Democrats, who had pioneered the initiative, said the result was "a missed opportunity for greater tax fairness". But the party said that the fact that more than 40 per cent voted in favour showed the perceived need for changes.
The business federation, economiesuisse, welcomed the result. It said the people had shown their confidence in the Swiss tax model.
The cantonal finance directors echoed this, saying the result was a "victory" for the cantons, which enjoy autonomy in setting tax rates.
Under the proposal, the minimum rate for annual income exceeding SFr250,000 ($249,402) would have been set at 22 per cent and 0.5 per cent for wealth of at least SFr2 million.
The initiative was aimed at putting an end to what the left said were abuses of the tax autonomy the 26 cantons enjoy under the Swiss federalist system.
The initiative aims at the automatic deportation of foreigners convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, other serious sexual offences, violence such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and breaking and entering. Welfare fraud is also included.
The counter-proposal tightened the list to (among others): premeditated murder, murder, rape, aggravated armed robbery and serious violation of the drug law. Grievous bodily harm was added in by the House of Representatives. The counter-proposal stated that deportations should respect the Swiss constitution and international law.
2009 Prison sentence statistics (Federal Statistics Office)
Proportion of foreigners: 70.2%
Criminal foreigners awaiting deportation (2009): 411
swissinfo.ch and agencies