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Nationwide votes Clear verdict expected on strict smoking ban

The ballot papers get stamped at the polling offices

(eq images)

Voters have the final say on Sunday about proposals to tighten anti-smoking laws and tax breaks for elderly homeowners. Both initiatives are likely to fail. A plan to promote musical education is set to win a majority according to opinion polls.

Supporters of stricter regulations against second-hand smoke want to outlaw smoker’s lounges with waiter service and special bars or cafes for tobacco users.

They say an estimated 10,000 people working in the restaurant sector face serious health risks because they are subjected to second-hand smoke.

The Lung League - supported by health organisations, trade unions and centre-left parties - collected enough signatures to force a national vote in a bid to impose a uniform nationwide law banning smoking in indoor working places, but allowing cantons to state exceptions.

However, the business community, centrist and rightwing parties as well as the government have come out against the initiative.

Opponents have argued that the proposed restrictions go too far, threatening the interests of the restaurant sector, and interfere with the cherished federalist system giving cantons a large degree of autonomy. They say it does not make sense to amend a hard-fought compromise decided by parliament three years ago.

Currently eight of the 26 cantons, particularly in French-speaking western Switzerland, have banned smoking from restaurants and bars altogether. They only tolerate special rooms without waiter service.

The emotional campaign in the run-up to voting day was marked by allegations of deliberate misinformation by opponents of the initiative.

Home ownership

The initiative to grant retired property owners special tax breaks has only had the official support of the rightwing People’s Party and the Association of Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

Supporters say current law punishes elderly people who paid off their mortgages as they can no longer claim deductions on their tax form.

The leading Home Owner’s Association calls for the abolition of the rental value of property – a uniquely Swiss system based on the presumed income if the accommodation were rented out.

Opposition from all the other parties, the government and notably also the cantons has focused on what they consider unjustified tax privileges for a small group of the population, as most people in Switzerland live in rented accommodation.

It is the third time this year voters decide on an aspect of home ownership. The other proposals aimed at boosting home ownership were clearly rejected.

People's initiative

The people's initiative allows every citizen to propose a modification of the constitution. To be valid it must be signed by at least 100,000 ...

Musical schooling

Virtually no campaign was staged by supporters or opponents of a planned promotion of music teaching at schools and improved coordination among the cantons which have broad powers on educational matters.

Most parties, except for the People’s Party and the Radicals, have come out in favour of a constitutional amendment.

The vote is expected to pass smoothly. It is a watered-down version of an initiative launched in 2007 aimed at giving the state a bigger role in musical education. It was later withdrawn in favour of a proposal by parliament and the government.

Political scientists expect a below-average turnout – between 40 per cent and 45 per cent - for the third nationwide ballots this year.

Sept 23 vote

The votes are the third in a series of four ballots scheduled this year.

About 5.1 million citizens are eligible to take part in the ballot.

As part of ongoing trials with e-voting, some 164,000 voters including registered Swiss expatriates can cast their ballot online.

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