Traffic congestion and rent hike fears have dominated debate in the run-up to Sunday’s nationwide votes.This content was published on January 29, 2004 - 14:20
The Swiss are also being asked to vote on proposals to lock up violent offenders for life.
After a busy year in 2003 – which included parliamentary and cabinet elections as well as a deluge of votes in May – Swiss politics is returning to “business as usual” with just three issues before the electorate.
They include two government-backed proposals.
One is to ease traffic congestion by upgrading the country’s main roads and investing in public transport.
The other is to link rents to inflation rather than the mortgage rate.
The third issue is a people’s initiative – opposed by both the government and parliament – to hand violent offenders lifelong sentences if they fail a one-off psychological assessment at the time of conviction.
Opponents have seized upon the possibility of a second road tunnel being built through the Gotthard to win support for their campaign against the government’s road transport policy.
They argue that it is unnecessary, costly and contravenes Switzerland’s policy of protecting the Alps.
The government plan is a counter-proposal to the so-called Avanti initiative, which was launched in 2000 and called for a second road tunnel through the Gotthard – Switzerland’s main north-south axis through the Alps.
The initiative was later withdrawn after the government came up with its own plans.
They call for up to SFr350 million of public money to be set aside annually to tackle traffic congestion.
The money would be used for building new roads and for investing in public transport.
But parliament forced the government to include the possibility of building a second tunnel in its proposals.
Opponents who are in favour of moving more freight from road to rail also criticise the costs of the government proposals at a time when massive public spending cuts are being made.
For the second time in less than a year the Swiss are being asked to vote on rent policy.
Last May they rejected centre-left Social Democrat-backed proposals that would have kept rent increases in check and imposed tougher restrictions on landlords.
Now they are being asked to support government-backed proposals to link rents to inflation rather than mortgage rates.
The government argues that the change would put an end to landlords being able to raise rents every time there is an increase in mortgages, but failing to reduce rents when there is a drop in the rates.
But opponents claim that the proposals would make it easier for landlords to force through rent increases and get rid of existing tenants just to profit from the chance of raising the rent.
They warn the change would lead to increased costs for a majority of the Swiss population – 70 per cent of whom live in rented accommodation.
The third issue the Swiss will be voting on is a people’s initiative to tighten the laws on the release into the community of violent offenders.
The initiative was launched by a group of victims and families of victims, and has the backing of the rightwing People’s Party.
It calls for offenders found guilty of sexual and violent crimes to be locked away for life if they are deemed to be a risk to society.
Offenders would only have one psychological assessment – at the time of conviction. If they failed that they would then face life imprisonment.
The government, which opposes the initiative, says its own revision of the criminal law – due to come into effect in 2006 – already guarantees that society is safe from “untreatable” offenders.
It is also concerned that the proposed changes would undermine Switzerland’s commitment to international human rights treaties, and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees offenders regular psychological assessments.
swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton
The Swiss normally vote four times a year on national policy issues.
The last time the Swiss went to the polls was on October 19, 2003 to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections.
The road transport and violent offenders votes would entail changes to the constitution and need the double majority of cantons and the popular vote to pass.
The rent vote only needs a simple majority of votes cast.
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