Poll shows UN supporters gaining ground

More than half of respondents favored joining the UN

A new survey ahead of a nationwide vote on March 3 shows a majority of the electorate favours Swiss membership in the United Nations.

This content was published on February 20, 2002 minutes

The poll, carried out by the GFS institute, shows that 54 per cent of voters now approve UN membership, while 37 per cent oppose it. Nine per cent of those questioned were still undecided.

Compared with the results of a similar survey carried out by the GFS institute on behalf of the German-language national television, SF DRS, the percentage of UN supporters increased by four per cent over the previous month. The figure for the opponents stagnated.

The survey, based on interviews with 1,271 potential voters from the German, French, and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland, was carried out last week.

Linguistic divides

UN supporters have a clear majority in the French-language region of Switzerland, according to the survey. But there is only a thin majority in the larger German-speaking part of the country. The Italian-speaking region leans toward a "no" vote.

The survey found that turnout on March 3 is likely to be higher than usual. Nearly 50 per cent of those interviewed said they planned to vote.

Race still open

The polling institute says the ballot indicates that UN supporters are more likely to win. But the institute points out that both supporters and opponents will make a final attempt to mobilise citizens to take part in the vote.

Swiss membership in the UN needs the approval of a majority of voters and majority of the country's 26 cantons.

The last time Swiss citizens voted on this issue in 1986, a three to one majority rejected membership.

Confident opponents

Ulrich Schlüer, a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, which stongly opposes UN membership, says he is sceptical about surveys in general, particularly in a case where a simple majority of voters is not enough to win.

"I do not think the poll is very significant for the vote. According to my information the survey was carried out before a major debate on television between supporters and opponents of UN membership. I am sure that the debate has given a boost to our side", Schlüer told swissinfo.

He said UN opponents would continue their campaign and focus on certain regions where they have hopes winning voters over. "Having the better chances of winning, it is easy to be confident", Schlüer said.

Neutrality and cost

The campaign in the run-up to the March vote focused on whether UN membership would compromise Switzerland's neutrality, a cornerstone of the country's foreign policy. It also focused on the cost of membership.

The government, which along with most political parties and parliament is in favour of UN membership, said Switzerland could increase its credibility by joining the UN, and that it would not jeopardise neutrality.

Opponents of UN membership, led by the right-wing Swiss People's Party, and an isolationist group, Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland, have rejected this notion.

They also warned that membership would cost Switzerland much more than an additional SFr75 million a year, suggested by the supporters.

Switzerland is the only country, besides the Vatican, not to be a full member of the UN. It only has observer status at the UN General Assembly, but has been taking part in most activities of UN organisations.

Switzerland contributes about SFr500 million ($294 million) annually towards the world body and hosts the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.

by Urs Geiser

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