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'I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote

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'I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
17:14 CEST+02:00
Switzerland goes to the polls on October 20, but due to the country’s strict voting laws around 25 per cent of residents will not be permitted to take part.

When compared to other European countries, Switzerland is comparatively restrictive when it comes so granting immigrants the right to vote.

While there are some regional variations, generally speaking only those who have gained Swiss citizenship are allowed to have their say at the ballot box.  

Foreigners must wait a minimum of ten years to apply for Swiss citizenship, with the wait frequently much longer than a decade. 

The Local Switzerland reached out to our most valuable resource - our readers, many of whom are internationals - to gain a local’s perspective on the Swiss voting laws. We asked whether the lack of voting rights restricted the lives of foreigners in Switzerland - and whether it was time to change the law. 

READ: ‘It’s a lonely country to live in’ - What our readers think about Switzerland

Our poll received 47 responses, more than double that of some recent polls, showing the popularity of the issue to our readers - and to internationals in Switzerland in general.

Responses to the major questions were split, again highlighting the divisive nature of the issue.

Many respondents advocated for a greater say in national affairs, although the majority were cautious to bring in any significant initiatives which would change the delicate balance of Swiss society. 

Should foreigners have the right to vote? 

Just under two thirds - 63.8 percent - of respondents told us they felt foreigners should have the right to vote in Switzerland. 

The remainder - 36.2 percent - advocated for the law to stay the same, i.e. restricting the vote to citizens. 

If yes, how long should foreigners wait to vote in Switzerland? 

We then asked those who responded ‘yes’ to the first question to suggest a time period which would be more appropriate. Perhaps through eagerness to have their voices heard - or perhaps from not reading the question properly - this question again attracted 47 responses. 

The largest share of respondents - 37 percent - indicated that five years would be the most appropriate time frame to wait. A further 15.2 percent indicated that a two-year wait would be their preferred time period before voting. 

Almost one quarter of respondents (23.9 percent) told us that the current time period of ten years (i.e. the minimum time frame to wait for citizenship) was the appropriate period. 

As this question was opened to personalized feedback, there were a number of other responses given. Three respondents said that foreigners should never be given the right to vote, while another said 20 years was an appropriate time frame. 

A man casts his vote in the Zurich town hall. Photo: ANDY MUELLER / EQ IMAGES / AFP

As a foreigner, has your experience been influenced by a lack of voting rights? 

As with the previous questions, there was a wide divergence of opinion as to whether a lack of voting rights has impacted life in Switzerland for foreigners. 

The vast majority - 63.8 percent - of respondents said that not having the right to vote had not influenced their life in Switzerland. 

A number of others however disagreed, with several individualized responses indicating that the democratic deficit had made them less inclined to engage in politics. 

One told The Local: “I would be more interested in local affairs if I could vote because I would have to engage more with local culture to gain the knowledge to make a decision”. 

Another agreed, saying the framework led to an “apathy in general towards politics”.

Several respondents also indicated that they felt they didn’t have a voice in the country in which they live. “Yes, I have bought a house and pay taxes but have no say in how my community and country operates," said another respondent. 

Another told The Local “Yes. I feel unable to contribute and disenfranchised”, while a further respondent said “I care about a community where my opinion doesn’t get counted”. 

One further respondent simply stated “it feels undemocratic for a country proud of its democracy”. 

Does this failure to provide voting rights reflect a Swiss mentality?

After a story published by The Local last week suggested Switzerland was an unfriendly country to foreigners, we asked readers whether there was a connection between the Swiss mentality and the restrictions on voting rights. 

Some didn’t see a connection - and while others did, they indicated this was due to a desire to preserve Swiss traditions and much of what has made the country prosper. 

One told The Local: “I can understand the reservations of Swiss citizens. One reason the country is so successful, safe and beautiful is through careful and conservative approaches to change”.

Another said: "Partly. It says that you must become fully integrated in the system before you can vote to change it.”

Other respondents were more critical, arguing that the law was structured as to “prevent the integration” of foreigners into Swiss society. 

Another said it was a political, rather than a social restriction, saying “the restriction reflects Swiss politicians afraid of losing their salaries”. 

Switzerland goes to the polls on October 20th. Some administrative bodies, such as that of Basel, have indicated support for extending suffrage to foreigners - although this would only apply at a local level.

Many thanks to everyone who responded to our survey. All your comments contributed to this article, even though we weren't able to include each one.

 

 
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