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Swiss vote on holidays and homes

Vote counting is underway across the country

(EQ Images)

Polls have closed following nationwide votes on a handful of issues, including a controversial proposal to limit the number of holiday homes.

An intiative to extend statutory annual holidays to six weeks, and a law on the re-introduction of an accord on fixed book prices were also on the list.

A prominent environmental foundation is seeking to set a maximum quota of 20 per cent for holiday homes in every commune across the country.

Supporters argue the construction boom notably in mountain resorts has led to a waste of natural resources and massively boosted property prices, disadvantaging the local population.

There are an estimated 500,000 second homes in Switzerland accounting for about 12 per cent of total housing.

Opponents say the proposed limit breaches the autonomy of the local and cantonal authorities under the cherished federalist system.

The issue pits environmentalists - supported by the political centre-left and some centre-right groups – against the business community and the tourist industry.

The government and parliament came out against the initiative. They say reforms of the zoning law - in force since last July – are a more suitable political instrument to combat excesses at a local level.

Books

Considerable debate in the run-up to Sunday focused on the re-introduction of an agreement on fixed book prices. Approved by parliament last year the law aims to help Swiss authors and publishers and to protect smaller bookshops.

Opposition came from an alliance of centre-right and rightwing groups which challenged the decision to a referendum.

Resale price maintenance regulations were repealed in the French-speaking part of Switzerland in the early 1990s, while in the main German-speaking region the book agreement was abolished only in 2007.

About 500 publishers in Switzerland produce around 10,000 books annually in all four national languages.

Holidays

A proposal by a trade union group to increase statutory annual holidays by two weeks to six weeks appears to have little chance of winning voters’ approval.

Most political parties, the business community and the government have warned the initiative would result in higher labour costs and be detrimental to the economy.

Supporters counter that ever increasing stress at the workplace justifies longer annual holidays.

Under Swiss law, employees get a minimum of four weeks per year, but some industrial sectors are granting more generous entitlements.

People's initiative

The people's initiative allows every citizen to propose a modification of the constitution. To be valid it must be signed by at least 100,000 ...

Tax breaks for home buyers

An initiative aimed at granting tax breaks to Swiss saving up to acquire a house or an apartment also features on the ballot list.

Supporters argue cantons should be allowed to grant fiscal incentives to raise the traditionally low rate of home ownership in Switzerland.

Voter turnout on Sunday is expected to reach average levels of around 40 per cent.

Under Swiss law, initiatives – equivalent to a change in the constitution - require both a majority of voters and a majority of the 26 cantons to pass. For a referendum a majority of voters is sufficient.

Key facts

About 5.1 million citizens, including 136,000 registered Swiss expatriates, were eligible to participate in the five nationwide ballots on March 11.

Votes and elections are also scheduled in many cantons and at a local level on the same day.

It is the first in a series of four nationwide ballots scheduled this year.

As part of ongoing trials with e-voting, around 122,000 citizens, mainly Swiss abroad, were able to cast their ballots online.

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Five issues at stake

Five different issues were at stake on March 11:

An initiative by trade unions for a minimum six-week annual holiday.

An initiative by an environmental group to cap the number of holiday homes at 20% at a local level across the country.

An initiative allowing cantons to grant tax breaks for future home owners.

A constitutional amendment on regulations for casinos and lotteries, including prevention efforts for gambling addiction.

A referendum challenging parliament’s decision to re-introduce a fixed book price agreement.

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