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Swiss abroad heartened by Italian lessons

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad meeting in the federal parliament Keystone

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad says it hopes for fresh political impetus following the role played by expats in Italy's recent election.

This content was published on April 14, 2006 - 11:26

A foreign ministry official in Bern expects that political parties will in future try to attract more votes from Swiss citizens abroad who have registered to vote.

According to Italian interior ministry data, Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition won the election for the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi by just 25,000 of the 38 million ballots cast.

Italians living abroad, who could enter the race for the first time, may have tipped the political balance.

In the Senate, which is similar to that of Switzerland, four of the six new parliamentarians from abroad played a crucial role for Prodi's alliance.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad in Bern was positive about this aspect of the elections.

Great progress

"It is a mark of great progress that there are seats reserved for Italians living abroad in both [Italian] chambers," the organisation's director Rudolf Wyder told swissinfo.

He said the organisation would follow the experiences of this "new and interesting" model very closely.

Wyder said he hoped the Italian example would give new stimulus for the discussion on the issue in Switzerland.

The demand for a so-called 27th canton for the Swiss abroad is an old chestnut within the organisation. It is now pursuing a two-pronged strategy on the issue.

One element is to widen the circle of friends in the Swiss parliament. A parliamentary group created in 2004 which aims to look after the interest of the Swiss abroad already has 85 members.

The organisation's second aim is to strengthen its campaign of encouraging Swiss abroad to vote. A condition is that they have to be registered with the authorities to participate in federal elections and votes.

Good news

Wyder also has good news on this front – "we recently broke the barrier of 105,000."

Beat Kaser, deputy head of the Swiss Abroad Service in the Swiss foreign ministry, said that the role of Italians living abroad in Italy's elections was "interesting".

Kaser said that leading representatives of the political parties at a meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad in Bern two weeks ago had pricked up their ears, realising that 105,000 votes were up for grabs.

The Italian election result had been revealing, he said. "The [political] parties have understood from a concrete example what votes abroad can do."

And this even though there will be no 27th canton when the next federal elections take place in 2007.

"The political participation of Swiss abroad is much greater than that in other countries," Wyder said.

The Swiss abroad can not only participate every few years in parliamentary elections but also express their views several times a year in referendums at federal level.

Candidates

The Swiss abroad might not have any reserved seats like their "colleagues" in Italy but they have had the opportunity to put themselves up as candidates in federal elections since 1995.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad is therefore encouraging political parties to put Swiss abroad on their lists of candidates.

However all attempts from Swiss candidates abroad up to now have failed.

"The problem is that they are not well known," admitted Wyder. "It's not that they can't do the job."

An unknown candidate has barely a chance because the votes of the Swiss abroad alone are not enough.

swissinfo, Renat Künzi

In brief

Parliamentary seats were reserved for Italians living abroad for the first time in the elections held earlier this month: 12 in the Chamber of Deputies and 6 in the Senate.

Four Italians living abroad tipped the balance of power for Romano Prodi's centre-left in the Senate.

Swiss living abroad have been able to candidate in federal elections since 1995.

None of the Swiss living abroad has yet been elected to parliament.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad has been following developments in Italy with great interest.

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Key facts

There were 634,216 Swiss living abroad at the end of 2005.
The figure represented a growth of 11,159 people compared with 2004.
Almost three-quarters have dual citizenship.
Almost two-thirds of Swiss abroad live in Europe.
105,000 are on the election register.

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