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The Swiss abroad wield political muscle

The Social Democrats (SP) are the Swiss abroad's party of choice

(swissinfo.ch)

Registered Swiss voters living abroad could tip the balance in close votes in Switzerland and are a force to be reckoned with.

According to a swissinfo poll, they politically lean more to the Left than the Right or the Centre.

An online survey commissioned by Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) and swissinfo reveals that the centre-left Social Democrats (SP/PS) would be the big winner among those living outside of the country.

The party would scoop 31 per cent of votes in a parliamentary election. The other big winner would be the Greens with around 15 per cent.

The most recent opinion poll inside Switzerland on voting intentions, also carried out by the GfS Research Institute, gives the two parties 24 and just five per cent of the vote respectively.

Georg Stucky, the president of the OSA, maintains the high level of support is not such a surprise.

"The Swiss abroad tend to view Switzerland as an island," he told swissinfo. "For them, the country is like an untouched green island so it's actually rather a conservative approach."

"As far as the Social Democrats are concerned, the poll shows there is a lot of support for them from women in particular - far more so than in Switzerland," he added.

"I would put that down to them wanting to protect social insurance and benefits which they consider important."

Losers

While the Centre-Left and Left are the winners among the Swiss abroad, the biggest losers are the parties on the Centre-Right and Right.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC), which regularly tops opinion polls in Switzerland with around 25 per cent, only garners support from 15 per cent of the Swiss abroad.

There is more bad news for the centre-right Christian Democrats (CVP/PDC). Their level of support has dropped to 14 per cent in Switzerland, but they fare even worse abroad with just eight per cent of the vote.

The Radicals (FDP/PRD), another centre-right party represented in the four-party government, have a similar level of support at home and abroad - 19 and 18 per cent respectively.

The Liberal party (LPS/PL)is the only Centre-Right party to have greater support-base among the Swiss abroad than in Switzerland (seven per cent compared with two per cent).

Stucky says, although he is not astonished by the apparent polarisation in the voting intentions of the Swiss abroad, people and parties in Switzerland may well be surprised.

"They probably will not expect such a split between the Left and the Right, with large scale support for the Centre missing," he said.

Making a difference

Stucky also maintains that the Swiss abroad can influence results in a close vote, a view that is borne out in the survey's findings.

Every year, an additional 400 of them are registering to vote, which will bring the total number of Swiss abroad eligible to cast their ballots in October to around 86,000, according to the GfS.

Collectively, they are almost the same voting size as canton Neuchâtel, and Stucky says that if all of the almost 600,000 Swiss abroad eligible to vote were registered, it would make them the fourth largest Swiss canton.

To take part in a vote, the Swiss abroad have to register with the authorities in the last place they lived in Switzerland.

Evidence that they make a difference came in last year's vote on tightening Switzerland's asylum laws. The proposals were defeated by a narrow majority of the popular vote - just over 3,000 votes made the difference.

But figures from the three cantons that count votes from the Swiss abroad separately - Geneva, Lucerne and Vaud - indicated that expatriate Swiss were firmly against the proposals.

Pro-EU

The poll also shows that the Swiss abroad are much more enthusiastic about Switzerland joining the European Union than their counterparts back home.

It is number one among their concerns of issues affecting Switzerland.

They voted overwhelmingly in favour of the first set of bilateral agreements in 2000 and supported a proposal in 2001 calling for the speedier negotiations for Swiss entry to the EU.

When asked whether they would have supported the 1992 vote on Switzerland joining the European Economic Area (EEA), a majority said they would have voted in favour.

Stucky says that, although the votes would not have made a difference to the outcome of the ballot on the EEA - it required the double majority to pass - the survey shows that the Swiss abroad would have swung the popular vote.

"The Swiss abroad were only given the right to vote a few months ahead of the EEA ballot," he said. "So at the time there were only about 23,000 registered."

"If there had been the same sort of number as today, the popular vote would certainly have been different and that would have had an important political message."

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

In brief

The online survey was carried out by the Bern-based GfS research institute on behalf of swissinfo and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad in March and April 2003.

A representative sample of 2003 expatriate Swiss living in 10 countries and all five continents were surveyed.

Around 77% of the Swiss abroad live in ten countries: France, Germany, Italy, USA, UK, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Thailand and Singapore.

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