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Voters stand up to be counted

Around 6,000 voters took part in the centuries-old tradition

(Keystone)

In the eastern Swiss canton of Glarus, a sun-drenched square ringed by craggy peaks became the stage on Sunday for one of the oldest forms of democracy.

An estimated 6,000 locals turned up to raise their hands at the "Landsgemeinde" - the annual public voting forum, which dates back to 1387.

They gathered around a large wooden stage in the town of Glarus where individuals from all walks of life - some of them dressed in colourful costumes - argued for acceptance or rejection of a range of motions.

If the first show of hands does not reveal a clear majority for or against, the president asks the five members of the cantonal government to join him on stage for a precise count of a second vote.

The canton's residents often use the annual open-air assembly to overturn unpopular government policies.

Tax snub

On Sunday they rejected finance director Willy Kamm's proposal to raise taxes in a bid to stave off an impending economic crisis in the canton.

"That's direct democracy for you. We will just have to find other ways of saving," he told swissinfo.

Aside from the serious business of government, Landsgemeinde Day is a festive event.

The streets are filled with market stalls and fairground rides. All the bars and restaurants do a roaring trade, with visitors keen to taste the speciality Landsgemeinde dish: veal sausages with white onion sauce and mashed potatoes.

Along with Appenzell Inner Rhodes, Glarus is the last remaining Swiss canton practising this ancient form of democracy.

"In such a small place with only 38,500 citizens, it's the best way to get everybody involved in the decisions that affect them," says Willy Kamm.

Voting forum

Marianne Dürst, Glarus's first female member of government, says what distinguishes the Glarus voting forum from that of Appenzell Inner Rhodes is that anyone can take the stage and argue for or against a law or proposal.

She's convinced that locals are not going to give up this unique right any time soon.

Tourism director Sascha Antenen would like to capitalise on the tourism potential of this piece of living history.

Glarus has suffered a slump in overnight stays in recent years, with a number of hotels closing down.

Antenen wants to attract more visitors next year and plans to organise a series of events around the voting forum.

"The Landsgemeinde cannot remain a Holy Cow. We are proud of our democratic institutions and we need to respect them, but perhaps it's time to share them with a wider audience."

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

Landsgemeinde

The Glarus Landsgemeinde dates back to 1387.
This year's event drew 6,000 participants.
Only local residents are allowed to vote.
The forum frequently overturns cantonal government proposals.

end of infobox

Landsgemeinde

Some 6,000 voters turned up in Glarus on Sunday to take part in one of the country's oldest forms of democracy - the Landsgemeinde.

They stood for five hours in the baking sun and with a show of hands voted to reject the government's proposed tax-raising measures.

end of infobox

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