Voters have dismissed a proposal to reduce Switzerland’s ecological footprint by introducing strict immigration rules and family planning measures. Three out of four voters rejected the Ecopop initiative.
Just under 26% of voters came out in favour according to final results on Sunday.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said she was pleased with the result and surprised by the clear verdict.
"Voters have obviously realised that the initiative would not have solved any environmental problems but created huge political problems," she told a news conference.
Political scientist Claude Longchamp of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute said many voters considered the initiative "too harsh" and decided "based on rational arguments".
He added that campaigners represented a minority and did not have the necessary logistical backing to win more support.
Commentaries in the Swiss press had been clearly negative in the run-up to voting day, Longchamp said.
Political scientist Michael Hermann, for his part, said some citizens may have rejected the initiative because they had seen the difficulties the government is facing trying to implement immigration quotas for European Union citizens as a result of a vote in February.
At that time, Swiss voters approved a plan by the rightwing Swiss People's Party to re-introduce quotas. Bilateral relations between Switzerland and the European Union have been strained since then.
In an interview with the Blick newspaper, Hermann said Sunday's clear result paved the way for the government to tread carefully in planned negotiations with Brussels to break a deadlock on immigration limits.
The Ecopop group said it was disappointed by the result. Representatives blamed it on a fear campaign run by business leaders and the government. The group also argued that the opponents had 30 times more funds than supporters of the initiative.
"It was a battle between David and Goliath," said Hans Geiger.
The Ecopop president, Benno Büeler, is quoted by the Newsnet.ch website as saying the initiative addressed a taboo subject – reproduction of the population and an absolute belief in the need for economic growth.
Ecopop was aimed at limiting immigration on a three-year average to 0.2% of net population growth – about 17,000 people annually in absolute numbers.
Currently the Swiss authorities record about 80,000 entries of new immigrants a year, mostly from the European Union.
The Ecopop campaigners also wanted the government to spend at least 10% of its aid budget on voluntary family planning methods in developing countries, boosting a United Nations right for women to use birth control.
Heinz Karrer, president of the Swiss Business Federation, welcomed the result, saying he did not expect such a clear verdict.
Paul Rechsteiner, president of the Trade Union Federation and parliamentarian for the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said he was highly pleased with the outcome. He said it could help ease tensions with the EU.
"The No to Ecopop is a Yes to the bilateral treaties with the EU," added Kurt Fluri, parliamentarian for the centre-right Radical Party in line with similar statements by other major parties.
However, Justice Minister Sommaruga dismissed any direct link between Sunday's result and planned negotiations with Brussels.
The Ecopop group was fighting a lone battle, facing a broad alliance of political parties from left to right, the business community, trade unions, the churches and other pressure groups.
The No campaign dismissed the initiative as a dead end, damaging for the country’s economy and absurd in its aim to make Switzerland a pioneer worldwide with a radical move to cap population growth for the benefit of the limited resources on the planet.
Several government ministers have warned that acceptance of the initiative would have further complicated planned negotiations with Brussels on implementing quotas, which run counter to the principle of the free movement of people, a tenet of the EU.
The big political winner of the February vote, the Swiss People’s Party with its anti-EU agenda, officially backed the government.
Abolition of lump sum taxation:
Restrictions for central bank gold reserves:
About 170,000 citizens, mostly Swiss Abroad, were able to vote online as part of ongoing trials with e-voting. Some 16.8% used e-voting.