Rightwing demands constituency for Swiss abroad

Could Swiss living abroad vote in their own virtual canton?

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party is calling for the creation of a single constituency for expatriate Swiss.

This content was published on September 11, 2003 minutes

But the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) says establishing a “virtual canton” would not provide expatriates with better parliamentary representation.

The suggestion was one of many discussed at this year’s OSA congress held in the alpine resort of Crans Montana.

Under the current system, the Swiss abroad who want to vote may do so by post, but only in the canton in which they last lived or were registered.

The same is true for standing for parliament.

But Rolf Schudel, head of the international branch of the People’s Party, would like to see expatriate votes gathered together within one constituency rather than being dispersed throughout the country.

“There are 600,000 of us living abroad,” he told swissinfo. “I think we should be directly represented in parliament.”

“The best way to achieve that would be to count all the votes [from the Swiss abroad] in one constituency to give us a better chance of electing our own parliamentarians.”

October election

Rolf Schudel, who has lived in South Africa for the past 25 years, is standing as a candidate in this year’s election.

He is heading the People’s Party’s list in canton Basel Country.

Although Swiss abroad have stood for parliament in previous elections, it is the first time one of the major Swiss parties has presented a separate list containing mainly candidates from abroad.

According to the OSA, 16 expatriate Swiss are standing for election to the House of Representatives in this year’s parliamentary elections – the People’s Party has put forward 12 of them.

Rudolf Wyder, director of the OSA, says it is important that expatriates should be allowed to put themselves forward as candidates, although he maintains that it is more complicated for them to garner support in Switzerland.

27th canton

He admits the idea of a separate constituency for the Swiss abroad is both a tempting and intellectually interesting one, but he rejects the plausibility of creating a 27th canton.

“Such a structure would be rather artificial,” he told swissinfo.

“It’s true that it would enable registered voters abroad to concentrate on one or two candidates thereby increasing the chances of their being elected.

“But it shouldn’t be forgotten that a Swiss abroad standing for parliament would also need to find votes in Switzerland.”

Wyder says that the OSA has discussed the idea of separate representation for the Swiss abroad on more than one occasion, but the overwhelming feeling has always been that it is better to have expatriate Swiss participating fully in the political process rather than creating the “ghetto of a virtual canton”.

“The debate is interesting,” he said. “And I welcome it because it stresses the importance the Swiss abroad have taken in political life in Switzerland.”

Parliamentary seat

Should he make it into parliament, Schudel would not be the first Swiss living abroad to hold a seat.

Strictly speaking that honour belongs to husband and wife Ruedi and Stephanie Baumann, who moved to France after being elected to the House of Representatives.

Schudel admits his chances of being elected are slim, but he feels an expatriate Swiss would be better placed to represent the interests of the Swiss living abroad, and he stresses that he would be able to do the job.

“I know it’s unlikely that I shall be elected,” he said. “But my priority is to get as many votes for the People’s Party as possible.”

“As far as the parliamentary sessions and committee meetings are concerned, that would just take some getting used to, and I would need to plan business trips around them.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Key facts

The Swiss abroad were first granted the right to vote in 1992.
Of the 600,000 expatriate Swiss, around 83,000 are registered to vote.
Husband and wife Ruedi and Stephanie Baumann are the first non-resident Swiss to hold seats in parliament, although they only moved abroad after securing election here in Switzerland.

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