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Counting underway in nationwide votes

Votes are being counted across the country

(Keystone)

Counting is underway in nationwide votes on the easing of citizenship restrictions and the introduction of statutory maternity benefits.

Early trends show the proposals, opposed by the Right, are finding support in the French-speaking part of the country, but not in the German-speaking cantons.

First trends from GfS polling institute for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, indicate that French-speakers are likely to side with the government, parliament and the three of the four main political parties which are supporting the proposals.

Voter participation has been higher than usual, according to Claude Longchamp, director of the institute.

German-speakers are more sceptical, particularly about plans to make it easier for young foreigners to become Swiss citizens.

One proposal envisages speeding up the naturalisation procedure for people aged 14 to 24. Trends seem to indicate it will be turned down.

Another would grant automatic citizenship to children born in Switzerland of foreign parents, provided they meet certain criteria.

It also foresees standardising the regular citizenship procedure across the country. This would reduce the minimum residency period required before one can apply for citizenship and set maximum fees for citizenship applications.

Opponents, led by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, say the proposals would undervalue Swiss citizenship, while supporters underline the importance of integrating young foreigners into Swiss society by giving them full political rights.

Mothers

Another controversial issue before the public was the introduction of statutory maternity benefits.

If the vote clears the final hurdle at the ballot box, gainfully employed women would be eligible for 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave. Voting trends indicate the benefits will be accepted.

Currently it is mainly up to individual employers whether they pay maternity benefits, although the principle was enshrined in the Swiss constitution more than 50 years ago.

Many large private companies and employers in the public sector have implemented maternity leave schemes voluntarily, but women in unregulated branches of industry have no entitlements.

Postal services

A third issue that has been voted on is a proposal to slow down the restructuring of the state-owned Post Office.

The government, parliament and the main parties, except for the centre-left Social Democrats, came out against the initiative by trade unions and the country’s leading consumer group.

The Post Office management said cutbacks were necessary to remain competitive in the liberalised market but promised that it would continue to keep up a nationwide post office network, notably in remote mountain regions.

Opposition against the Post Office restructuring, including the closure of up to 800 subsidiaries, has been particularly strong in rural areas as well as in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country.

swissinfo

In brief

The Swiss have been voting on easing rules for Swiss citizenship, introducing statutory maternity benefits and slowing down restructuring plans for postal services.

The citizenship votes and the people's initiative on the postal service need a double majority of the cantons and the popular vote to pass.

The maternity benefit vote only needs a simple majority.

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