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Geneva voters refuse to extend political rights to foreigners

Voting posters in Geneva
Examining voting posters in Geneva last week Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Voters in Geneva have rejected a move to extend political rights to foreigners. The left-wing initiative “One life here, one vote here” was rejected by 61% of the electorate. Turnout was 46%.

The aim of the constitutional amendment was to give foreigners who live in Geneva and have lived in Switzerland for at least eight years full political rights at municipal and cantonal level. This would have given foreigners the right to stand for election at municipal level, in addition to the current right to vote, as well as the right to vote and stand for election at cantonal level, a first in Switzerland.

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This measure was defended by the left, trade unions and associations in order to “strengthen democracy” in a canton where foreigners account for over 40% of the population – a view shared by the majority of the cantonal government. In its view, the fact that foreigners can vote at cantonal level lends greater democratic legitimacy to political decisions.

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The initiative was presented without a counterproposal. For those on the political right, naturalisation is the only way to guarantee successful integration and full access to citizenship. The Radical-Liberal Party, the Centre Party, the Geneva Citizens’ Movement and the Swiss People’s Party, joined by the Greens, pointed out that Geneva is one of the cantons that naturalise the highest percentage of its foreign population.

Like their respective parties, the three Radical-Liberal and centrist cantonal parliamentarians considered that the proposed constitutional amendment was too generous. They formally disassociated themselves from the cantonal government’s position.

Voting at municipal level

The initiators had argued that naturalisation had become more restrictive in Switzerland, which excludes many residents even if they were born in the country. As a result, cantonal political rights would have allowed them to have their say on matters that affect them on a daily basis, given that they contribute economically, socially and culturally to the canton’s wealth.

In Switzerland, only cantons Neuchâtel and Jura grant foreigners the right to vote at cantonal level, but not to stand for election. In these two cantons, as well as Vaud and Fribourg, they have the right to vote but also to stand for election at municipal level. In Geneva, foreign nationals have held the right to vote in initiatives and referendums at municipal level since 2005.

Translated from German by DeepL/ts

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