Rightwing citizenship plan heading for defeat
A proposal to reinstate the use of the ballot box to decide on naturalisation applications appears to have been rejected by voters.
Results are expected shortly, but there are increasing indications that the plan by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, has not mustered the necessary majority of the electorate.
Two other issues - the latest reform of health system and plans to limit the information policy of the federal authorities - are also heading for rejection in Sunday's vote, according to the gfs.berne polling and research institute.
Five years ago the Federal Court outlawed the ballot box as a way of dealing with citizenship requests. It followed a series of allegedly discriminatory decisions, particularly against people of Balkan origin.
The court argued rejected candidates must have the right of appeal.
However, the Swiss People's Party argued that it was up to local communities to decide on the citizenship procedure they use - whether public assembly, special panel or secret vote at the ballot box. It also wanted to deny candidates the right of appeal.
The party staged a vigorous campaign in support of its initiative, including the reappearance of its infamous poster showing hands grabbing Swiss passports.
Opponents, including the government, three of the four main political parties, as well as legal experts, said that reinstating the banned citizenship procedure would be discriminatory.
Switzerland, which has around 20 per cent foreigners, is widely held to have one of the toughest naturalisation processes in Europe, with people needing to wait 12 years before being eligible to apply. This compares with between four and ten years in European Union states.
This is not the first time that citizenship issues have come to vote. In 2004 the Swiss rejected simplified naturalisation procedures for second- and third-generation foreigners.
A poll commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo's parent company, and published ten days before the ballot, found that just around one-third of the respondents supported the plan.
Health reform and information
Another initiative up for vote was aimed at making the health insurance system more competitive and transparent – and ultimately less expensive.
The plan calls for the constitution to be amended to include an article giving a broad outline for the health system: quality, competition and the principle of free choice. It is argued that these principles are general and already in use.
Those against say that it paves the way for health insurance companies to bolster their position against the other players in the health sector, particularly doctors and the country's 26 cantons.
There have also been warnings of higher costs for patients and an end to unrestricted access to doctors.
This is the latest attempt to overhaul the system. The Swiss have voted on health matters at least five times in the past decade.
Switzerland's health costs, already among the highest in the world, have been subject of much debate in the country.
Another initiative decided on Sunday was a plan to limit information rules for the federal authorities ahead of nationwide ballots.
A group of staunch conservatives, supported by the People's Party, argued that the government should not use taxpayers' money for "propaganda". But opponents say it's the government's job to give its point of view on the issues concerned.
swissinfo, Urs Geiser
Foreign residents must wait at least 12 years to be eligible to apply for naturalisation.
Foreigners married to Swiss nationals can take advantage of a simplified procedure, reducing the number of years they have to wait.
Successful applicants must show that they are integrated into Swiss society, comply with Swiss law and pose no threat to internal or external security.
The cantonal and local authorities are responsible for naturalisation procedures, either by public assembly or by a special panel.
Five years ago the Federal Court banned the use of the ballot box to decide on citizenship applications, saying rejected candidates must have a right of appeal.
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