Parties out to counter apathy among young voters

Defence minister Samuel Schmid addressing a session of the youth parliament in 2002 Keystone Archive

More than 84,000 young people will be eligible to vote for the first time when the Swiss elect a new parliament on October 19.

This content was published on October 2, 2003 - 08:26

Campaigners are urging them to use their ballot. But can young voters make a difference?

With less than three weeks to go, the youth wings of Switzerland’s four main parties have been pulling out the stops to persuade young Swiss to go to the polls.

But they have their work cut out: in the 1999 parliamentary elections, only 26 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds turned out to vote.

And a recent study by Fribourg University concluded that young Swiss were less politically aware than their counterparts in other countries.

The fact that many young voters fail to show an interest in the political process comes as no surprise to Carl Duisberg, vice-president of the centre-right Radical Party’s youth wing.

He says a major obstacle is the fact that there are just a handful of young politicians in the Swiss parliament.

“The political arena is dominated by members of the older generation which means that there is no one around for young voters to identify with,” he told swissinfo.

Time for action

However, Duisberg insists it is up to young people to take action: “The longer young people turn their heads, the longer nothing will change.”

This is echoed by Thomas Schmidt, president of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party’s youth wing, who claims that in no other country do young people have such a direct influence on politics.

“There is a common perception that politics is boring and corrupt, but politics can be very interesting - especially in a country like Switzerland, where you have the possibility to participate by direct democratic means in daily politics,” he says.

But Claudio Marti, general secretary of the centre-left Social Democratic Party’s youth wing, believes this is not enough.

He says Swiss politics in general fails to take into account the interests of young people.

“The questions of youth politics and the participation of young people in democracy are very important,” he says.

“International issues, such as the war against Iraq, are also very interesting for young people, but politicians in Switzerland don’t seem to be aware of that.”

Hot political issues

Political youth organisations say the hot political issues for young voters, such as unemployment, job security and the decriminalisation of cannabis, have been largely ignored.

Elias Welti, general secretary of the centre-right Christian Democrats’ youth wing, says the cannabis question in particular is of special interest to young people and would appear to be an obvious issue for engaging them in the political process.

Last week the House of Representatives rejected legislation that would have allowed possession and production of cannabis for personal use, as well as limited trade in the drug.

“Young Christian Democrats have been asking for the liberalisation of cannabis consumption for years,” Welti told swissinfo.

“The older politicians, of course, have a different view on that, but I think it is really something most young people are concerned about.”

All the more reason, says the Social Democrats’ Claudio Marti, for younger voters to make their presence felt on October 19.

“Every generation can make a difference and the important thing in a democracy is that every generation has a vote and every generation should vote for its interests.”

swissinfo, Daniela Silberstein

youth voters

Swiss get the vote at the age of 18.
In the 1999 elections, only just over a quarter of 18-24 year olds cast their vote.
The four parties of government all have youth sections.

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