Press warns of crisis in public confidence

The government's triple defeat dominated the headlines

The Swiss press has interpreted the results of Sunday’s nationwide vote as a backlash against the rightward direction of the political establishment.

This content was published on May 17, 2004

Voters on Sunday threw out all three proposals put forward by the government and parliament, including tax breaks, cuts to the state pension and a hike in VAT.

The press on Monday said the result was a clear rejection of the centre-right ideology and policies of the political establishment. Most papers said the outcome showed that trust in politicians had sunk to new lows.

“The Swiss give the authorities a slap in the face,” screamed the headline in the French-language “Tribune de Genève”.

The people want balanced proposals and not ones that have resulted from one political ideology having triumphed over another, said the paper.

The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” commented that the triple rejection showed that "nothing worked any more" because it was the second time this year that the people had tossed out the suggestions of the government.

The paper was referring to the three votes in February on transport, rent and justice issues, none of which went the government's way.

“In other countries such a mass vote of mistrust on economic and social policy would have lead to an obligatory change of government,” said the NZZ.

Leadership crisis

“Leaderless Switzerland” was the title of the commentary in the Zurich daily “Tages-Anzeiger.”

The paper went on to say that the government had had a “false start” because its policies had been rejected twice. It added that leadership was a question of communicating clear ideas to the voters.

The paper said politicians should remember that political ideas which won favour among the party faithful would not necessarily win the support of the country.

Most papers shared the Tages-Anzeiger's view that the Swiss remained strongly in favour of compromise. “Bridge-builders are needed to solve the leadership crisis in our country.”

For the tabloid “Blick” the result was a clear indication that the centre-right Radical and Christian Democrat parties and the rightwing Swiss People’s Party needed to do some soul-searching.

“They must urgently think about where they want to position themselves,” said Blick. “With economiesuisse, the bosses’ organisation? Or with the majority of the people, who want social reform?”

People power

Other newspapers focused on the fact that the people were more likely to vote “no”, if they were presented with big, complicated or radical solutions.

For French-language daily, “Le Temps” the result was a “triumph of confusion”.

“By the nature, size and unanimity, the triple no… expresses what really seems to be a system in crisis,” said Le Temps.

The paper said a large part of the problem was related to the confusing nature of the political establishment, which left voters reluctant to commit to specific policies.

The result was a vote of mistrust in the government and of rebellion against its proposals, was the paper’s summing up.

The NZZ agreed the Swiss were firmly in favour of compromise. “Whether tax, social policy, traffic or proprietary, the will for majority solutions is disappearing,” said the paper, adding that the centre-right was suffering from a “reform logjam”.

The Bern-based “Bund” said the vote should not be seen as a rejection of reform by the public. It said people understood that both the tax and pension systems are still in need of change.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

Key facts

Tax breaks: rejected by 65.9%.
Pension reforms: rejected by 67.9%.
VAT increase: rejected by 68.6%.
Turnout was 50.3%.

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In brief

Three issues were turned down by voters this weekend:

A package of federal tax cuts amounting to SFr2 billion for families, property owners and shareholders.

A proposal to cut state old-age pension scheme benefits to the tune of SFr925 million per year.

A 1.8% increase in Value Added Tax to shore up state insurance schemes for the disabled and for old-age pensioners.

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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