Switzerland votes to join the world

The yes camp carried the day, but the vote was close

In a historic decision, Swiss voters have cast aside their self-imposed isolation by choosing to join the United Nations.

This content was published on March 3, 2002 minutes

Sunday's poll means that Switzerland is soon to become the 190th member of the UN - the last country bar the Vatican to join the world body.

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, cheered the result saying it showed Switzerland's commitment to the work and ideals of the UN.

He added that Switzerland had long been a part of the UN, and had much to contribute. "Switzerland is already an active and generous participant in the UN family and has contributed much in the way of experience and know-how..."

The final count showed that 55 per cent of voters had cast their ballots in favour. Voter turnout was far higher than usual at 57.7 per cent.

Throughout the day, the outcome remained a cliffhanger because the ballot needed the support of a majority of Switzerland's 26 cantons. In the end, the cantonal vote was carried by a majority of one.

The close result was in stark contrast to the last vote on membership in 1986, when voters decisively rejected joining the UN.

Political analyst, Julian Hottinger, said the vote showed that Switzerland is gradually opening up to the world. "Gradually public opinion is changing and there is a will to integrate into what's become a global society," he told swissinfo.

He added that the voting had revealed splits among the Swiss which went beyond the traditional divisions between language regions.

"The western part of Switzerland still has some resistance and opposition to this opening. But urban areas and industrial Switzerland have literally turned the page and have proved they are willing to look towards to outside world."

Damage independence

Three of the four political parties in government were in favour of membership, as was business community. The no campaign was led by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, and its populist figurehead, Christoph Blocher.

He told the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation that the result would weaken Switzerland and damage its independence.

Blocher argued throughout the campaign that Swiss neutrality would be compromised by membership because the country would be forced to obey the US dominated UN Security Council, including becoming involved in foreign conflicts.

Other opponents of membership said they had expected a yes vote. Luzi Stamm, a member of the People's Party told swissinfo he was actually surprised at the close result.

"I'm surprised at how many 'nos' we had given that the government, the media and business were in favour."

He added that his party would be "watching closely how Switzerland's representatives behave in the UN".

Tread carefully

Political analyst, Julian Hottinger, told swissinfo that the narrow margin by which the vote was carried meant the government would have to tread carefully when it joins the UN.

"The government will have to take into account that it was a close vote, and that there is still strong opposition."

Supporters of membership had argued that since Switzerland has taken part in all UN sanctions since the beginning of the 1990s it made no sense to remain outside the world body.

The Swiss Foreign Minister, Joseph Deiss, has said membership would help Switzerland to implement its peace policy, and aid in preventing international conflicts.

Another key objection from the no campaign was the cost of membership. However, the government pointed out that Switzerland already pays about SFr470 million ($275 million) per year.

Full membership would cost an additional SFr70 million.

The government did not expect UN membership to lead to any increase in the federal budget; the funds were expected to be made available through savings in other foreign political expenses.

by Denise Kalette

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