Swiss reject agriculture schemes in national vote

Voters across Switzerland on Sunday resoundingly rejected initiatives aimed at boosting local farming and promoting more ethical and environmental standards in food production, amid fears of cost hikes and reduced consumer choice.

Swiss reject agriculture schemes in national vote
File photo: AFP

Voters rejected two schemes linked to agriculture and food security, as well as protection for Swiss farmers against cheap food imports.

The final results showed that 61 and 68 percent of voters respectively rejected the “Fair Food” and “Food Sovereignty” initiatives.

Read also: What you need to know about Switzerland's two food referendums

The “Food Sovereignty” initiative, which had the backing of Switzerland's powerful farmers' union, had among other things called for turning a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMO) into a total ban.

Early polls had suggested strong backing for both initiatives, but support fell after the government, parliament and other opponents argued they could send prices skyrocketing, limit consumer choice and might violate Switzerland's international trade obligations.

Geneva and three other French-speaking cantons supported both initiatives, but the German-speaking part of the country voted massively against them.

Also on Sunday, Swiss voters overwhelmingly backed a proposal to enshrine support for cycling in the constitution.

All 26 cantons and nearly 74 percent of voters came out in favour of adding an article to the constitution giving federal authorities more responsibility for developing cycling paths across the country.

The text meanwhile only provides federal authorities with the possibility of stepping in on matters related to promoting cycling without obliging them to do so, and the cantons are expected to remain largely in charge.

The national votes this time failed to garner much excitement, resulting in below-average turnout, with only 37 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots. 

READ ALSO: Swiss region of St. Gallen overwhelmingly votes for 'burqa ban'


Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?

Only Swiss citizens can vote in national referendums or in federal elections. But in some regions, foreigners are allowed to participate as well.

Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?
Only few cantons and municipalities allow non-citizens to vote. Photo by AFP

According to Federal Statistical Office (FSO), some cantons and communes give their resident foreigners the right to vote on local issues and to elect local politicians. 

“By having the right to vote and to be elected, foreigners can play an active but limited role in society”, FSO said.

It added, however, that as Switzerland is a federal state, “there are considerable differences between cantons, and in some cases, between communes. As a result, the opportunities for political participation are strongly dependent on where a person lives”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland's EU free movement referendum could impact much 

So in which regions can foreign nationals have a voice in local affairs?

The Swiss-French cantons and municipalities seem to be ahead of their German-speaking counterparts in regards to voting rights.

The cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura allow non-citizens to vote, elect officials, and stand for election at communal level. Conditions vary from one canton to another, but in most cases a certain length of stay and/or a residence permit are required.

In Vaud, for instance, where 30 percent of the population is foreign, immigrants can run for or sit on the communal or Town Council, as well as sign an initiative or a communal referendum.

However, in order to be eligible, they must be over 18 years of age (just like Swiss citizens), hold a residence permit for at least 10 years, and live in the canton for at least three years. 

All foreign nationals are directly entered in the electoral register once the requirements are met, and automatically receive the official material for votes and elections on a communal level. 

Geneva, which has the largest foreign population in Switzerland (45 percent), grants foreigners voting rights at communal level, but they can’t run for office. 

Basel, Graubünden, and Appenzell Ausserrhoden have authorised their communes to introduce the right to vote, the right to elect and the right to be elected. 

But few of the communes have actually introduced these measures.

In Graubünden, only 10 of the canton’s 208 municipalities are allowing foreigners to vote: Bever, Bonaduz, Calfreise, Cazis, Conters im Prättigau, Fideris, Lüen, Masein, Portein, and Schnaus.

Only three of Appenzell Ausserrhoden’s 20 municipalities— Wald, Speicher, and Trogen — granted voting rights to non-citizens.