Switzerland will remain one of the last countries in western Europe with mandatory military service after voters overwhelmingly rejected a pacifist initiative to scrap conscription. The vote is a resounding victory for the government.
Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said the defeat of the proposal by the pacifist Switzerland without an Army group to end conscription and introduce a professional army of volunteers was a vote of confidence in the current militia system.
“It is a yes to the army and to more security,” he told a news conference on Sunday.
He said he was now cautiously optimistic about a vote next year on the purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, given the 73 per cent majority in favour of conscription.
Christophe Darbellay, a parliamentarian for the centre-right Christian Democratic Party and leading member of pro-army committee, said the result was a slap in the face of the pacifist group.
The group, which had collected enough signatures for the ballot on conscription, said the disappointing outcome of the vote was to be expected.
“The army is obviously part of Switzerland’s identity. Emotions held the upper hand over facts,” Nikolai Prawdzic said.
The pacifists had argued the current army was outdated and too expensive.
The Social Democratic Party, which supported the initiative, said Sunday’s result must not be taken as a blanket approval of the army. It said reforms remained necessary to adapt the structure of the armed forces and reduce their size and costs.
On the wane
For his part, political scientist Claude Longchamp of the GfS Bern research and polling institute says the allure of the pacifist group might wane.
It is the third time in 25 years that voters have rejected similar proposals by the pacifist group.
The vote in Switzerland comes on the back of a non-binding ballot in neighbouring Austria in January, which endorsed conscription.
However, most other European states have scrapped or suspended mandatory military service in recent years.
Under the Swiss constitution every able-bodied male Swiss citizen has to serve in the Swiss militia army from the age of 18. Exceptions are allowed for those opting to do civilian service.
But the army will remain high on the political agenda. Voters are likely to have the final say next year on the purchase of 22 fighter jets, and parliament and the government are at odds over the army budget.
Results September 22 vote
Abolition of conscription
26.8% yes 73.2% no
Amendment epidemics law
59.9% yes 40.1% no
Opening hours petrol station shops
55.8% yes 44.2% no
Shop opening hours
Swiss voters also cast ballots on two other issues on Sunday, approving all-night shopping at some petrol stations and granting the government greater control over vaccination programmes.
Nearly 66 per cent voted in favour of the revised labour law relaxing restrictions on nighttime shopping at petrol station shops on motorways and busy roads in urban areas. Under the current law, certain goods had to be locked away between 1am and 5am.
Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann welcomed voters’ approval as it would do away with a “bizarre situation” and take into account the needs of consumers.
There was no fundamental change in regulations on nighttime and Sunday work protecting the rights of employees, he added.
Nearly 159,000 citizens, including a limited number of the Swiss expatriates, could cast their ballots online as part in a trial with e-voting.
Nearly 50% of the Swiss registered abroad voted via computer, according to the Federal Chancellery.
Overall about 14% per cent of voters used the internet to vote.
The Sunday Alliance group, which had challenged the law, conceded defeat saying they would take the economics minister at his word.
The group, including trade unions and churches, had argued the new law would open the floodgates for the introduction of a 24-hour working day in the retail sector.
Indeed, there are several proposals pending to extend regular shop opening hours and to allow small shops to operate around the clock.
Commenting on the outcome of the vote on a reform of the epidemics law, Interior Minister Alain Berset tried to downplay fears that people would be forced to get vaccinations.
“There is no major change compared with the current law. The amendment allows us to improve the protection of the population against epidemics and contagious diseases,” he said.
In an emergency situation the law foresees making vaccinations mandatory for certain members of the population, notably those working in the healthcare sector.
The amendment gives the federal authorities more say over vaccination campaigns, despite opposition by a diverse group of critics headed by a holistic therapist.
Turnout for the three nationwide votes was just over 46 per cent. Pollsters say the level is slightly above average and is surprising, given the rather low-key campaigns in the run-up to Sunday.
By Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch