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Direct democracy   Traditional open-air assembly cancelled due to pandemic

Impressions of the Landsgemeinde, Sunday, 28 April 2019, in Appenzell, Switzerland.

A picturesque setting: impressions of last year's Landsgemeinde on April 28, 2019

(Keystone / Christian Merz)

Canton Appenzell Inner Rhodes has decided to cancel its annual open-air voting assembly – the oldest form of direct democracy in Switzerland – because of Covid-19 restrictions.  

The northeastern Swiss region is one of only two cantons, along with Glarus, that still holds a “Landsgemeinde”, a 600-year-old tradition that sees all registered voters gather once a year to elect their government, pass laws or set tax rates with a show of hands.

The Appenzell assembly usually takes place on the last Sunday in April. This date had already been pushed back to August 23 due to the coronavirus lockdown. 

+ Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland  

On Friday, however, cantonal authoritiesexternal link said the assembly would be cancelled altogether this year, and that a normal ballot would be held to decide on the most important issues. 

Unprecedented? 

The head of the cantonal government, Roland Inauen, was quoted by the NZZexternal link newspaper as saying that “as far as we can see, in the last 200 to 300 years, the assembly has never had to be cancelled before”. 

Restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus crisis include a ban on meetings of more than 1,000 people until the end of August. The canton could get an exception, but it would still have to ensure strict virus protection measures. 

“This is particularly hard for gatherings of more than 1,000 people,” the canton said in a statement.  

The protection measures would also change the character of the meeting, which includes a special church service and festivities.  

The practice, which used to be more widespread across Switzerland, is not without its critics, who say that this form of democracy doesn’t fulfil the basic right to a secret ballot.

Keystone-SDA/swissinfo.ch/ilj

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