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Voters set to accept stem cell research

The Swiss have voted on federalism, finances and stem-cell research Keystone

Exit polls indicate that the Swiss have voted to allow stem-cell research on surplus human embryos and given the go ahead on two other issues.

This content was published on November 28, 2004 - 12:56

These permit a reform of the federal system, and allow for the renewal of the government's mandate to impose taxes.

Exit polls from the GfS research institute in Bern showed 66 per cent of voters backed stem-cell research.

The new legislation would permit research on stem cells from surplus human embryos under certain conditions.

The production of stem cells would be limited to embryos not older than seven days. Therapeutic cloning and the trade in embryos would remain banned along with research on the embryos themselves.

Parliament approved the law in 2003, but an alliance of religious and pro-life groups as well as leftwing opponents of gene technology challenged the legislation to a nationwide vote.

Controversy

The government, the four main political parties and the business community came out officially in favour of stem-cell research despite prominent dissenting voices.

Opponents argue that the law oversteps ethical boundaries, while its supporters say it is crucial to ensuring that Switzerland’s research community remains among the best in the world.

Those in favour of stem-cell research have pointed out its importance for finding medical cures.

The Swiss stem-cell law falls between the liberal regulations in Britain and Austria’s restrictive legislation.

Three years ago Switzerland’s National Science Foundation gave the green light for research on stem cells imported from abroad.

Reform and tax

The exit polls showed 63 per cent of voters approved a wide-ranging reform of the federal system. The renewal of a mandate for the federal government to impose taxes was also expected to be approved.

The reform plans are aimed at redressing the balance of power between the federal government and the 26 cantons. They are also designed to redistribute responsibilities and funding in about 30 policy areas.

Supporters say reform is needed to close the gap between richer and poorer regions, and to make the system of subsidies more transparent.

Voters also had the final say on a proposal to renew the mandate for the federal government to levy taxes, including Value Added Tax, until 2020.

Under Switzerland’s three-tier fiscal system, the local and cantonal authorities as well as the federal government have a right to impose taxes.

Turnout

Analysts said most of the campaigning ahead of the votes was low-key.

“It appears that hardly any interest groups were willing to stage costly campaigns,” said Georg Lutz, a political scientist at Bern University.

He added that the issues at stake were complex and provoked a wide range of arguments.

As a result Lutz expected voter turnout to be below the average 40 per cent level.

“Previous ballots have shown that voters abstain and stay at home when an issue is too complicated,” said Lutz.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

The electorate was asked to vote on research on embryonic stem cells, reform of the federal system and the renewal of the mandate for federal taxes.

Exit polls show voter approval for all three issues.

Voter turnout was estimated to be just below 40 per cent.

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