Swiss abroad see election silver lining

More than 3,500 ex-pats could avail of e-voting

The parliamentary elections on Sunday were both a success and failure for the large community of Swiss voters living abroad.

This content was published on October 25, 2011 minutes

On the one hand, electronic voting worked in the four cantons that introduced the system for expatriate voters. However, none of the Swiss abroad who stood for election were voted in.

“We are both delighted and grateful to the cantons for carrying out these tests and to the government for allowing them,” Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), told It was the first time that electronic voting was possible.

More than 3,500 expatriates registered to vote were able to benefit from e-voting in cantons Basel City, St Gallen, Graubünden and Aargau. That amounts to 53.1 per cent of the Swiss abroad who cast ballots in these cantons, the Federal Chancellery said on Monday.

Both the chancellery and the authorities in the participating cantons were satisfied with the experiment and spoke of a “complete success”, highlighting the desire to extend the introduction of e-voting nationwide.

“It is an important step but it’s also important to continue,” Wyder said, adding that the Council of the Swiss Abroad had already requested the general introduction of e-voting for the next parliamentary election in 2015.

The Council of the OSA maintains that it is unfair that not all expatriates are allowed to take part in e-voting. The government has limited the right to residents of the European Union, a few other European nations designated by the Swiss authorities and states that are signatories to the “Wassenaar Arrangement”. Only countries that have signed up to the latter – a pact on export controls of arms and dual-use goods – are considered by Bern to be able to guarantee freedom of expression.

Bitter pill

Wyder argues that this restriction excludes 10 per cent of Swiss expats from e-voting. In his opinion, e-voting would be secure in states like Mexico and Brazil that have yet to sign the accord. 

While e-voting went smoothly in the countries where it was allowed, the Swiss abroad also had a bitter pill to swallow on Sunday. None of the 81 expats who stood for election in the House of Representatives won seats.

“It is disillusioning, but it was not completely unexpected,” Wyder explained. “The objective wasn’t only to have expatriates elected but to have people close to the Swiss abroad in all parliamentary groups who understand their needs and demands and who are conscious of the importance to Switzerland for its citizens to be able to live outside the country. We will remain in close contact with them in order to advance the cause of the expatriate community.”

Samuel Lanz, president of the international section of the centre-right Radical Party, agrees. For him, the results “demonstrate that our party chose the right path not to present a separate list of expatriate candidates but to support certain candidates [representing expat interests] on the normal lists”.

Understand needs

In this way - even though none of the Radicals’ three expatriates presented on the normal lists were elected – Lanz argues that “we succeeded in putting four deputies into the House of Representatives who fully understand the demands of the Swiss abroad.”

The strategy of the centre-left Social Democrats was different. Like the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, centre-right Christian Democrats, Greens and centre-right Conservative Democrats, the Social Democratic Party presented separate lists of candidates who live abroad.

But even the Socialists were not surprised by the results, according to the president the Social Democrats international wing, Walter Suter. The party will again put forward a separate list in the next elections in 2015 because, Suter said, “this gives visibility to the Swiss abroad allowing them to make their issues and needs known in their home country.” In this way, “the party demonstrates its will to defend their interests”.

Suter also argues that the expats who did run for election will encourage more members of the diaspora to mobilise. And the Social Democrats could benefit from this mobilisation in 2015 if e-voting is introduced nationwide. “If it’s finally introduced, there will surely be a rise in the number of Swiss abroad who vote.”

The People’s Party is also satisfied with the visibility won by the separate expatriate lists. A spokesperson for the international section of the group said the party would analyse the results in the next few days to see if it should continue with the strategy or to place expat candidates on the normal lists.

OSCE watchful eye

The e-voting for Swiss expatriates caught the attention of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

A team of OSCE experts, which monitored the Swiss elections, focussed its attention on the four cantons that conducted e-voting. The mission’s report is expected to be published by the end of the year.

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Expatriate candidates

Swiss People’s Party: More than 50 candidates on 8 electoral lists in cantons Aargau, Basel City, Geneva, Graubünden, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Schwyz and Zurich.

Social Democratic Party: 14 candidates on 3 electoral lists in the cantons Geneva, Schaffhausen and Zurich.

Green Party: 6 candidates on a special list in canton Geneva.

Christian Democratic Party: 4 candidates on one special list in canton Geneva.

Radical Party: 3 candidates inserted into the normal electoral list of the party in Basel City, Bern and Zurich.

Conservative Democrats: 1 candidate in the list for Schwyz.

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