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Swiss voters being polled to the limit

There will be much paper work for vote counters Keystone

Swiss voters face being pushed to the limit on May 18, when the country is due to vote on nine different issues.

This content was published on January 5, 2003 - 11:29

Polling experts are warning that voters are likely to be hopelessly confused by the multitude of proposals leading to a meaningless result.

"Voting on nine issues in one day could turn out to be a political catastrophe," Claude Longchamp, political scientist at a leading research institute, GfS, told swissinfo.

Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, voters go to the polls on average four times a year to vote in referenda or "People's Initiatives" (in which voters can push through a ballot on any issue by gathering 100,000 signatures in support).

On May 18, the Swiss population could be faced with two referenda and seven initiatives - the highest number of proposals to be voted on in more than 130 years.

"This has not happened since 1866," Hans-Urs Wili, chairman of the political rights department of the Swiss government, told swissinfo.

Seasoned voters

He is confident, though, that the Swiss - seasoned voters that they are - are up to getting their heads around so many issues. "I don't think it would be too much to ask of the voters, however. I'm sure it would be a great challenge."

Longchamp takes the view that so many votes mean that neither the Swiss population nor the media will able to consider the issues properly. Normally, only one or two major issues are decided on a "referendum Sunday".

"It would be difficult for the Swiss people and the media to argue and inform objectively," he said.

He believes voters will simply throw in their lot with their political party of choice. "People will probably follow the policy of one single party for every proposal."

For Reto Nause, secretary general of the centre-right Christian Democrats, the vote risks blurring the different parties' positions on the issues. "It could be difficult for the political parties to convince the broader public of their attitude towards the different issues," he said.

Election year

Nause's concerns are particularly acute since 2003 is an election year, and his party is expected to face a rough ride at the polls.

The centre-left Social Democrats also take the view that nine issues in a single day is too many. "[It's] unreasonable to ask the public and the parties to deal with so many different issues at one time," said spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat.

The other two parties in government - the centre-right Radicals, and the rightwing Swiss People's Party - don't see a problem.

"The voters are not as stupid as many think they are," Guido Schommer, secretary general of the Radical Party, told swissinfo. "The proposals are easy to understand and can even be assessed in a multi-pack."

Aliki Panayides, secretary general of the People's Party, agrees that voters won't have a problem. "This shows how badly organised the Swiss parliament is," she adds.

Time pressure

One reason for the plethora of votes due on May 18 is the government's reaction to the "acceleration initiative", which was aimed at speeding up process by which issues are brought to a public vote.

This was rejected by the public in March 2000, but parliament nevertheless went ahead and reduced the period of time during which a vote has to be held.

According to Swiss law, proposals must be voted on at least ten months after being passed by parliament.

Complicating the matter is the general election on October 19, which has forced the government to squeeze as many votes into May 18 to avoid having the public vote on other issues on election day.

The government is also reluctant to have too many ballots on the other possible voting date, November 30, since it is seen as too close after the election.

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub

Key facts

On May 18, the Swiss population could be faced with the highest number of proposals to be voted on in more than 130 years.
Some are concerned that it will be difficult for the electorate to consider all the issues.

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In brief

Issues included on the May 18 ballot paper:
Equal rights for the disabled.
Proposed moratorium on nuclear energy.
Decommissioning of nuclear plants.
Revision of the health law.
Fairer rents.
Car-free Sundays.
Right to apprenticeships.
Revision of the army law.
New proposals for civil protection.

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