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Votes highlight gap between heart and head

Most Swiss newspapers focused on voters' acceptance of new paedophile legislation

(swissinfo.ch)

Swiss voters' decision to legalise prescription heroin might have made the headlines abroad, but on Monday the Swiss media were focusing on paedophiles.

In a major upset in Sunday's nationwide ballot, voters came out in favour of a proposal to tighten legal provisions against paedophile criminals, extending indefinitely the statute of limitations.

"The victims' victory", headlined Le Temps in Geneva, where support was the weakest in the country.

Nationally however 52 per cent of voters came out in favour of the proposal, despite opposition by the government and most political parties.

It is rare for a people's initiative to pass in a nationwide vote – only 16 out of 169 have been successful since 1891.

The Tages-Anzeiger said Sunday belonged to Christine Bussat, head of the children's protection organisation Marche Blanche who had fought almost single-handedly against government, parliament and most political parties.

A picture of an emotional Bussat filled the front page of the paper, which added that the result showed "how greatly the public value the protection of children", pointing out that on Sunday 61 per cent Zurich voters wanted a ban on four breeds of dangerous dogs.

But the paper had doubts. Experts, politicians and the media had frequently warned in this debate about "the waves of collective outrage of insecure people" and had repeated the old saying that there was no such thing as absolute security.

"A large number of voters don't feel themselves taken seriously by such meaningless phrases," it said, concluding: "Direct democracy is an uncomfortable form of government."

Divide

The tabloid Blick relegated the votes to page four, continuing its campaign against road racers on the first three pages. It too proclaimed Bussat as "Sunday's big winner".

"Everyone was talking about retirement schemes, cannabis and business interests, no one about tightening the law against paedophile criminals. Which was good news for those supporting the initiative," the paper said, pointing out that Bussat herself admitted the proposal wasn't perfect and needed to be "cleaned up" by parliament.

The Tribune de Genève devoted its first three pages to the paedophile legislation, with the headline: "Divide between the people and the elite".

The paper shrugged its shoulders at Geneva's rejection of the proposal, saying the reasons "remained mysterious".

"Misguided"

Also on Sunday 68 per cent of voters also backed the government's drugs policy, including the prescription of heroin for hardcore addicts. Cannabis consumption however will remain illegal.

The Swiss attitude towards heroin was picked up by the international media, including the BBC, New York Times and Times of India.

The United States and the United Nations narcotics board have criticised the programme as potentially fuelling drug abuse, but more than 80 governments have started or are considering their own programmes based on the Swiss model.

"Dealers will be happy," said the Tages-Anzeiger, commenting on what it considered a "contradictory" result.

It welcomed the acceptance of prescription heroin, but said the "unsatisfactory" situation regarding dope would benefit dealers and the black market.

"The no to cannabis consumption is misguided and leaves those with problems on their own," it said.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) said the Swiss had welcomed "the tried-and-tested method of reaching political compromises" by giving prescription heroin the thumbs up but cannabis the thumbs down.

The Tribune de Genève said we hadn't heard the last of the cannabis debate, "yesterday's vote hadn't settled anything – the Swiss have just swept the issue under the carpet".

Emotions

Voters also delivered a "heavy slap" to the centre-right Radical Party, according to the Tages-Anzeiger, when they rejected their proposal to curb the powers of non-governmental organisations in major building projects.

The initiative pitted the interests of business against those of environmentalists in the wake of a legal battle over the construction of a football stadium in Zurich.

The paper described the result as an "own goal" for the Radicals. "If you try to run through a wall headfirst, you've got to expect a headache," it said.

Regarding the failure of trade unions to introduce a flexible retirement from age 62 and reform the state old age pension scheme, the NZZ said that "in uncertain times the people don't want political experiments".

"A stable retirement system is more important to voters than being able to retire early but without long-term financial security," it said.

"Voters didn't let themselves be led by emotions."

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

In brief

As a rule nationwide votes take place four times a year.

About 4.9 million Swiss were eligible to vote on Sunday, including some 120,000 registered Swiss expatriates.

Trials took place with online voting in three cantons, including Geneva and Zurich.

The next nationwide ballot is scheduled for February 2009 when voters will decide on the continuation and extension of a key labour accord with the EU.

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Key facts

Drugs policy, including heroin prescription: 68% yes, 32% no.
Decriminalise cannabis: 37% yes, 63% no.
Statute of limitations for paedophile crimes: 52% yes, 48% no.
Flexible retirement age: 41% yes, 59% no.
Powers of environmental groups: 34% yes, 66% no.
Turnout was 46%.

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