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Expatriates seek impact on Swiss politics

Keystone

The Council of the Swiss Abroad is to step up efforts to raise awareness at home of the Swiss expatriates and facilitate their participation in politics.

This content was published on April 3, 2006 - 12:38

The decision comes as the number of Swiss abroad entitled to take part in votes and elections has passed 100,000 for the first time.

"The expatriate community has come of age and could with its political weight - in theory - force a nationwide vote," said Georg Stucky, president of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) in Bern on Saturday.

The organisation's governing body, meeting in the federal parliament, was discussing how to convince the Swiss living abroad to flex their political muscle.

By the end of last year there were 105,212 expatriates around the world with voting rights in Switzerland.

The figure is four times higher than the government forecast after the introduction in 1992 of postal votes, said Stucky.

But the expatriate community has so far had a limited impact at the ballot box, accounting for about three per cent of the overall electorate.

Promoting e-voting

Stucky added that further efforts are necessary to encourage the Swiss abroad to register and ease active participation in Switzerland's direct democracy.

The organisation hopes the steady increase will continue by promoting e-voting, notably the use of the internet and of the short messaging system (SMS).

"We will push for the introduction of e-voting by 2010 to allow the Swiss abroad to join in the political debate," said OSA director, Rudolf Wyder.

He said the OSA and swissinfo, the multi-language internet platform of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, would launch a special online forum ahead of the next parliamentary elections at the end of next year.

The organisation also called on the main political parties to improve their service for the Swiss abroad.

Seat in parliament

However, experts have warned it could take some time before a Swiss expatriate wins a seat in the federal parliament.

They said the debate over the funding of swissinfo as an information channel for the Swiss abroad had shown the importance of close contacts with parliamentarians.

Claude Longchamp, director of the GfS.bern polling and research institute, said the media, e-voting and the collection of data on the Swiss Abroad could help foster and maintain close links between Switzerland and its expatriate community.

He added that it was also in the interest of Switzerland to seek close cooperation.

"Switzerland has a unique, although immaterial export product – its system of direct democracy - and members of the expatriate community are its best ambassadors."

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

Total Swiss residents abroad (2005): 634,216.
In Europe: 395,397.
In America: 163,122.
In Africa: 18,017.
In Asia: 30,451.
In Oceania: 27,229.

Swiss expatriates entitled to vote: 105,212.

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In brief

The Council of the Swiss Abroad is the governing body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad.

Its main task is to promote the interests of all Swiss expatriates regarding the authorities and public opinion in Switzerland.

The council meets twice a year (once to coincide with the annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad) to examine political issues of concern to the Fifth Switzerland.

The Council currently consists of 148 delegates, some of whom are resident in Switzerland.

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