Direct democracy takes centre stage

The Swiss people have been balloted in five separate national votes today. At stake have been proposals on issues ranging from justice reform to fertility treatment.

This content was published on March 11, 2000 - 14:57

The Swiss people have been balloted in five separate national votes today. At stake have been proposals on justice reform, fertility treatment, traffic reduction, streamlining democracy, and improving female representation.

The referendum on justice reform is the only one of the five votes to have been put forward by the government. Preliminary forecasts also suggest that it is the only one to have been accepted by the people.

Justice reform is seen as long overdue in Switzerland, both because of the growing backlog of cases waiting to be heard by the federal court, and because of the differing legal systems in the cantons.

The new rules would allow a panel of judges to decide whether a case could merit a hearing in the federal court and would empower the government to introduce uniform legal procedures across the country.

The other four proposals all look set to be rejected. Forecasts based on preliminary results and exit polls suggest that support for them will be remarkably low.

The initiative on streamlining democracy aims to speed up the time it takes to put proposals to a national vote. At present the process takes three years, but the organisers of the initiative want the delay reduced to twelve months.

However, they have little support in the government. Only the conservative Swiss People's Party has come out in favour of the plan, with the other main parties inisisting that a shorter time scale could trivialise the decision making process.

Another initiative calls for traffic on Swiss roads to be halved by legal means within three years, although it does not say how. Its supporters argue that current traffic levels cost the economy around SFr1 billion annually, in terms of noise, congestion and environmental damage.

But opponents of the proposal dismiss it as naïve, saying it would harm the economy and put jobs at risk. Both houses of parliament and the federal government have advised voters to reject the plan.

Two of the initiatives put forward on Sunday can be expected to interest female voters in particular. The first calls for the introduction of quotas for women in parliament and the federal authorities.

Its supporters say quotas are badly needed to help create a better balance between men and women in Swiss politics. But the move has no support from the government or the parliament, and its detractors say there are better ways of improving female representation.

The final proposal calls for a total ban on medically assisted procreation, including sperm donation and in-vitro fertilisation. It has been widely opposed across the political spectrum, with the governmnet arguing that all couples have a right to have children, including those who are infertile.

By Theo Leggett and Jonas Hughes

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