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Swiss give thumbs down to popular initiatives

The Swiss voted in no fewer than five national referenda on Sunday, from justice reform to quotas for women in politics. They gave a warm response to plans for an overhaul of the judicial system, but the other initiatives were roundly rejected.

This content was published on March 13, 2000 - 08:14

The Swiss people voted in no fewer than five national referenda on Sunday, from justice reform to quotas for women in politics. They gave a warm response to plans for an overhaul of the judicial system, but the other initiatives were rejected by large majorities.

The unsuccessful proposals focused on banning fertility treatment, cutting traffic, streamlining direct democracy, and introducing quotas for women in politics. All four had been widely expected to fail, if not by quite such significant margins.

The justice reform plan was the only one of the five proposals to be put forward by the government. Such reform is seen as long overdue in Switzerland, partly because of the growing backlog of cases swamping the federal court and also because of the variety of legal systems in the cantons.

Under the proposals voted upon on Sunday, a panel of judges will be allowed to decide whether a case merits a hearing in the federal court. The government, meanwhile, will be empowered to adopt uniform legal procedures to apply across the country.

In what is being seen in some quarters as an endorsement of the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, the plans were approved by all 26 Cantons. In addition, over 85 per cent of voters were in favour.

The initiative on speeding up democracy was rejected by a majority of the 26 cantons, and attracted little public support. Under the Swiss system, approval is needed from both.

The plan was aimed at reducing the time it takes to put proposals to a national vote. The organisers wanted the current limit of 39 months reduced to 12.

Only the conservative Swiss People's Party supported the measure. The other main parties insisted it risked trivialising the decision-making process.

A proposal to halve traffic on Swiss roads within three years was also given short shrift by voters and the cantons. Its supporters had argued that current traffic levels cost the economy around SFr1 billion annually in terms of noise, congestion, accidents and pollution.

But opponents of the proposal described it as naïve, saying it would harm the economy and put jobs at risk. They were clearly in tune with public opinion; fewer than 20 per cent of voters supported the plan.

The remaining two votes focused on issues, which could be expected to interest female voters, most of all, and both produced decisive results.

The first was a proposal for a total ban on medically-assisted procreation, including sperm donation and in-vitro fertilisation. It was widely opposed across the political spectrum, and the people agreed - only one in three voters supported the plan.

The second, which sought to fix quotas for women in parliament and the cabinet, was rejected by an even larger margin. Fewer than 20 per cent of voters were in favour, despite a high profile campaign by its supporters, and in Canton Appenzell-Innerrhoden the figure was a mere seven per cent.

Those in favour of the plan had insisted quotas were needed to create a better balance between men and women in Swiss politics and government. But it had no support from the federal authorities, and its detractors said there were better ways of improving female representation.

Overall, Sunday's exercise in direct democracy produced few major surprises - although the lack of support for the four popular initiatives has raised a few eyebrows.

swissinfo and agencies

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