More stringent asylum rules set to be confirmed

Turnout during the latest nationwide ballots is likley to be around 40 per cent Keystone

Voters have the final say this weekend whether a more restrictive asylum law introduced last autumn should be upheld. They also decide on a rightwing proposal to have the cabinet elected by the people instead of parliament.

This content was published on June 8, 2013 - 15:10

Already in force since last autumn following a fast-track parliamentary procedure, the amendment to the asylum law gives the government increased powers over the country’s 26 cantonal authorities to house asylum seekers and to set up special centres for those considered troublemakers.

The change scraps asylum requests at Swiss embassies abroad and rules out providing sanctuary to conscientious objectors to military service who claim their lives are in danger on those grounds.

The new restrictions are limited to three years.

The nationwide ballot, forced by the political left with the backing of trade unions, churches and some human rights groups, is the latest in a series of moves to deal with the increasing number of asylum requests, as well as growing public concern about crime committed by asylum seekers in the past few years.

The government argues the new package of measures is compatible with international standards. Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga has pledged that Switzerland will continue to provide shelter to people in need.


But a government advisory body, the anti-racism commission, said previous reforms have led to individual and collective discrimination of asylum seekers. It warned against unjustified xenophobic crusades in an effort to crack down on abuses of the Swiss asylum system.

Three of the five main political parties have called on voters to approve the asylum law.

Two parties on the left have come out against it, while the centrist Christian Democrats are split down the middle. Opinion polls say a clear majority of voters support the latest reform.

It’s the latest in a long series of amendments to asylum legislation. The law has been changed ten times over the past three decades and at least six nationwide votes have been held on the issue.

A separate reform aimed at streamlining welfare payments for asylum seekers was approved by parliament last December, and cabinet has already announced yet another tightening of the law.

Facts and figures

An estimated 5.2 million citizens are eligible to take part in the nationwide ballots on June 9.

Around 163,000 people, mainly members of the Swiss abroad community, can cast their vote online.

They are part of ongoing trials with e-voting.

It is the second in a series of nationwide ballots this year.

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Cabinet elections

The second issue voters will be deciding on is a proposal by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to let citizens - instead of parliament - elect the seven-member cabinet.

Supporters argue the reform would boost the country’s system of direct democracy.

However, opponents – all other major parties as well as the cabinet – say Switzerland’s political stability would be in jeopardy if candidates, notably ministers seeking re-election at the end of their four-year term, have to run expensive and time consuming campaigns.

It is the third time in modern Swiss history that a party is seeking a fundamental change to the system by having the people elect the cabinet directly. A previous attempt by the centre-left Social Democratic Party was voted down in 1942.

The latest move was given fresh impetus by parliament’s refusal to confirm People’s Party strongman Christoph Blocher as justice minister in 2007.

The People’s Party is waging a lonely battle for its initiative on cabinet elections, but several Social Democrats, including a former cabinet minister, are publicly supporting the proposal.

According to the polls, voters are expected to overwhelmingly reject the proposal.

The political campaigns in the run-up to Sunday have been rather low-key and remarkably unemotional. They have rarely made the headlines in the media.

Turnout is expected to be average, around 40 per cent.

Issues at stake

Voters have the final say on two issues:

Key elements of the latest amendment of the asylum law approved by parliament and implemented in a fast-track procedure.

A proposal to overhaul the election procedure of the cabinet. Government members would no longer be chosen by parliament, but in a nationwide election.

At the same time, elections and votes on a variety of issues will take place at cantonal and local level.

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