Swiss living abroad have been able to exercise their right to vote by post thanks to a law which was introduced a decade ago.This content was published on June 28, 2002 - 19:41
Before the new law was introduced on July 1 1992, the names of a mere 14,000 of the estimated 600,000 Swiss nationals living abroad were contained in the electoral register.
Ten years on, that number has increased to 80,000.
"The Swiss abroad want to be responsible citizens and take part in political decisions," said Rudolf Wyder, director of the Secretariat for the Swiss Abroad.
"It's important that the large number of Swiss living abroad have been given this opportunity to take part in Switzerland's political life," he told swissinfo.
Georg Stucky, a former member of parliament and ex-president of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the postal vote.
The Swiss government originally approved a law that gave spouses of Swiss diplomats the right to vote by post, but Stucky campaigned for this right to be extended to all Swiss nationals living outside the country.
"At that time I thought it was important for all Swiss living in foreign countries to have the right to vote by post," Stucky said.
But Stucky - who says he was personally surprised by how many Swiss quickly took advantage of the change in the law - has set himself an ambitious target.
"We want at least 100,000 voters to be registered," he said.
But the former parliamentarian says the success of the system of postal voting can be measured by the fact that proportionally more expatriates make use of their right to vote than the Swiss at home.
Statistics indicate that voter turnout among Swiss living overseas is generally around 20 per cent higher than it is back home.
Roberto Engeler, president of the Swiss Association in Italy, says many Swiss living in the Mediterranean country exercise their right to take part in domestic elections.
"The number of emigrants arriving in Italy in the past 20 to 30 years is very high. This means that many of them have spent a large part of their lives in Switzerland," he told swissinfo.
The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad says the next step in the process of further facilitating the democratic process for those who have chosen to live outside Switzerland is to introduce electronic voting.
Three Swiss cantons - Zurich, Geneva and Neuchâtel - are currently running pilot projects to test out the procedure of voting on the Internet.
But Wyder believes it could be at least another 15 to 20 years before the Swiss abroad can make the big switch - and a giant technological leap - from the post box to the electronic mail box.
by Elena Altenburger and Billi Bierling