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Press finds voters decisive in time of uncertainty

Concerns about security and higher taxes prompted the Swiss to vote down four of five initiatives in a nationwide ballot on Sunday, according to the press.

Swiss newspapers take an almost unanimous line in their attempts to interpret voters’ reasons for throwing out initiatives to abolish the armed forces and to introduce two new taxes – on capital gains and energy.

The leader writer at Bern’s “Der Bund” newspaper, Richard Aschinger, writes that Sunday “was a day of radical decisions… influenced by three simple factors”.

These were “no new taxes”; fears about safety and security in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the collapse of Swissair; and Swiss voters’ famous consistency: they had already rejected the abolition of the armed forces, and a tax on energy in previous ballots.

The “Berner Zeitung” is categorical about voters’ resistance to “experiments”. Under a leader entitled: “Stability above all”, it says the events of the past few months – the September 11 attacks, the Swissair crisis, the war in Afghanistan – have convinced the Swiss that now is not the time for radical reform.

Tax fairness undermined

For the Zurich-based “Tages Anzeiger” (TA), the rejection of capital gains tax has “damaged tax fairness in Switzerland – and that’s how it ought to stay”. The paper says the people have decided “and they are always right”.

It supports the view that new taxes are now more unpopular than ever. However, it says the proposal for a tax on capital gains was badly handled, not least because its backers – the trade unions – had presented it as a way of reducing the burden on other taxpayers such as wage earners, at the expense of the rich.

The TA concludes that this made it easy for opponents to hammer home the point that Switzerland has a wealth tax, which many see as an alternative to a levy on capital gains.

On the army vote, the TA says it is time for supporters of abolishing the army to be abolished themselves, or at least re-invented.

Abolishing the army

In 1989, the group, Switzerland Without an Army, managed to win over 36 per cent of voters, in a nationwide ballot. The TA makes clear that this was in the heady atmosphere of the fall of the Berlin wall.

In Sunday’s vote, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, support for abolishing the army dropped to 22 per cent.

This is evidence, says the TA, of the army’s success at reform – it is now far smaller, cheaper and “human” than 12 years ago – as well as the public’s recognition that peacemaking (something the Swiss have always championed) is only possible with the support of an army.

The heavyweight “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” (NZZ) says the people are seeking “clear conditions in uncertain times”, hence the decisive votes.

“People don’t want new taxes or complex financial programmes especially in times of uncertainty following the September 11 attacks.”

It also makes the point that the second attempt to abolish the army, and tax “energy instead of work” fared worse than the first one.

A nation united

For the French-speaking paper, “Le Temps”, the vote revealed how united the country is on certain issues. It slams the initiatives as badly formulated and says they were put to the public at the wrong time.

The paper goes on to say the debate about whether to abolish the army is now over. It puts the blame for the negative result squarely on the shoulders of what it calls the Left’s “trainee” strategists, who should have realised the events of the past three months made the vote untimely.

The “Tribune de Genève” says the vote was that of a nation united by caution. Stimulating fundamental questions were asked, but it was obviously either the wrong time to put them to the vote or they were too progressive.

Rather than look back at Sunday’s result, “Le Matin” takes a different tack. It suggests the Left treat the battering it took at the polls not simply as a defeat. It makes the point that other initiatives may have been rejected in the past, but they have still played a decisive role in bringing about change.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR