Foreigners can already vote on a cantonal level in Jura and in Neuenburg in western Switzerland, but can not run as candidates for political office.
The ’Live and vote here’ (Vivre et voter ici) initiative was first launched in 2009 by a committee of 40 members from immigrant associations, foreign communities, individuals and elected politicians under the banner: “Integration happens because of participation, not rejection“.
“Integration of foreign nationals is not helped by their stigmatisation. Political rights are a central element of the feeling of belonging to a community,“ the committee said at the launch of the initiative.
According to the initiative, foreigners would receive voting rights if they have lived more than ten years in Switzerland and have been registered for more than three years in Canton Vaud. Approximately 85,000 people would benefit, or around 18 percent of voters.
“There are countries that do not accept dual nationality,” Serge Sagbo of the Christian Democratic People’s Party told The Local.
“These foreign nationals would be able to vote and become candidates under the initiative. There are also those who do not want to assume Swiss nationality, but want to contribute.”
Sagbo said the Vaud branch of the party had decided at a general meeting to lend its support to the initiative despite the reservations of some members.
If the vote on the initiative on September 4th is successful, foreigners could be voted into the Vaud cantonal parliament in Lausanne. It would also be possible to elect foreigners as councillors, as that is governed by cantonal law.
More than 14,000 signatures were received supporting the initiative. 2,000 signatures are needed to force a referendum at cantonal level.
The Green Party in Canton Vaud launched its own campaign on August 12th this year to drum up support for the ’Live and vote here’ initiative.
“It has been a big success despite the tendency against migratory politics in Switzerland,” said Raphael Mahaim, co-president of the ‘Live and vote here’ committee, and a member of the Green Party.
Anne Baehler-Bech, based in Lausanne, is a member of the Green Party who launched the initiative.
“Certain parties on the left are supporting the campaign that foreigners who are well integrated and know Switzerland well be given the same rights as Swiss people when voting at cantonal level,“ she told The Local.
Those in favour of the initiative say it is unfair that people who have been living and paying taxes in Switzerland for a long time can not take part in votes and elections.
“It is a question of justice. Most foreigners work for our prosperity, pay taxes, send their children to school. It is only right that they can also give their opinion on economic, fiscal or educational questions in their canton,“ the Green Party said at the launch of their campaign.
Opponents of the initiative include the liberal FDP and LPD parties, the far-right SVP (Swiss People’s Party), and the green-liberal GLP.
They say that integration of foreigners should be marked by naturalisation. The choice to accept Swiss citizenship is a positive indicator of integration, they say.
Those in favour of the initiative argue that naturalisation is not an argument against the granting of the right to vote. On the contrary, the right to vote amplifies the sentiment of integration and could drive interest in naturalisation, they say.
Vaud is known as a pioneering canton, being the first canton to give women the right to vote in 1959.
The Swiss government is not involved in the initiative.