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Political rights The big dilemma: giving voting rights to foreigners

Model democracy? About 1.7 million residents in Switzerland who don't have Swiss nationality and therefore can't take part in nationwide ballots


How can Switzerland call itself a model democracy when it does not give voting rights to the 1.7 million foreigners living on its soil, who represent about one quarter of the population?

This was one of the key questions asked at the Eighth Aarau Democracy Days conference on March 17-18, which focused on voting rights for foreigners.

Here are some of the most interesting comments made during the panel discussions:

“The Swiss abroad are the citizens of two states who show that political engagement is possible in two societies.”

Walter Leimgruber, professor at Basel University and president of the Federal Migration Commission

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“I’m personally offended when my school friends or the people who I play football with or go for a drink with are unable to vote.”

Cédric Wermuth, a centre-left Social Democratic parliamentarian from canton Aargau

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“It was one of the best days in my life when I went to Trogen and said ‘now I can also vote’.”

Jens Weber, member of the Appenzell Outer-Rhodes parliament, who has both Swiss and American nationality

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“Because of the right to European citizenship, foreigners can vote where we live. It has never been an issue for debate but a reality since 1992.”

Jens Weber, member of the Appenzell Outer-Rhodes parliament, who has both Swiss and American nationality

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“I’ve got nothing against foreigners. I support a child in South Africa financially. But Swiss citizenship should not come free of charge. It is only possible via naturalisation.”

Thomas Burgherr, a conservative right Swiss People’s Party parliamentarian from canton Aargau

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“The lack of political rights for foreigners is one of the most difficult dilemmas for direct democracy. It took a vote by the majority of Swiss citizens and cantons to introduce the right for women to vote.”

Andreas Auer, former professor of constitutional law at Zurich and Geneva universities

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“The communes could introduce political rights for foreigners given the autonomy of the communes.”

Titus Meier, a member of the centre-right Radical Party at Aargau’s cantonal parliament

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Translated from German by Simon Bradley,

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