The number of Swiss expatriates registered to vote has passed the 100,000 mark for the first time, after rising by more than ten per cent in just one year.
The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) says that while it is satisfied with this politically significant figure, it will continue to encourage people to exercise their rights.
"We are very satisfied because we have been encouraging people to register for some time now," OSA spokesman Marc Demierre told swissinfo.
The symbolic 100,000 mark was passed during a vote on the free movement of people between the European Union and Switzerland in September, earlier than most observers expected.
"Last year was politically interesting for the Swiss abroad, with two votes on bilateral accords with EU, and this certainly played a role," said Demierre.
More than 60 per cent of the Swiss abroad live in EU member states.
According to the OSA spokesman, citizens living outside the country are now more interested in what's happening back home. He adds that plans to introduce electronic voting have heightened people's interest.
"If the project goes ahead, it will be much easier for expatriates to cast a vote," Demierre said.
But the 105,212 Swiss abroad registered to vote represent just over one in five of those who would be eligible to cast a ballot. In 2005 there were 485,104 Swiss abroad with voting rights, from a total of 634,216.
Demierre points out that voting from abroad is harder. "These people have to register," he told swissinfo. "It's quite an effort."
According to Demierre, a lot of people aren't interested in voting because they are dual nationals. More than 70 per cent of the Swiss expatriates have two passports and vote where they live.
Despite this, the OSA says it will continue to encourage people to register.
With voting stocks abroad past the 100,000 mark, the Swiss abroad have – at least symbolically – some political strength. The OSA doesn't see them though as homogenous political force.
"They all have their own opinions and vote according to what they feel is right," said Demierre. "It is only on some specific issues, such as Switzerland's relationship with the EU, that they tend to vote the same way – in this case in favour of closer ties."
Passing the symbolic 100,000 mark also means that Swiss abroad could in theory force a nationwide vote. It should ensure at least that the country's political parties will pay more attention to citizens living outside Switzerland.
"A block of more than 100,000 voters is not uninteresting for politicians, especially with next year's federal elections coming up," says Demierre.
swissinfo, Scott Capper
The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad represents Swiss expatriates' interests in Switzerland.
It informs Swiss citizens living abroad about events in Switzerland and provides them with a wide selection of services.
Approximately 750 Swiss expatriates' associations and Swiss institutions all over the world support the OSA.
Founded in 1916, it is recognised by the authorities as the representative organ of the Swiss abroad.
Swiss expatriate figures 2005 (Swiss foreign ministry):
There were 634,216 Swiss living abroad at the end of last year.
71.2% are dual nationals.
60.47% live in the European Union.
The biggest group of expatriates lives in France, followed by Germany and Italy.
Outside of the EU, the United States is home to the largest number of Swiss abroad.
105,212 expatriates have registered to vote, out of a possible 485,104.
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