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SWITZERLAND

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland voted in Sunday’s referendums

On Sunday September 27th, Switzerland went to the polls on five major nationwide questions, along with several cantonal votes. Here’s how the country voted.

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland voted in Sunday's referendums
The referendum on hunting rights showcased Switzerland's rural-urban divide. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland went to the polls on September 27th to vote on five separate initiatives. 

Three of the initiatives – EU migration, tax deduction and animal protection – were originally scheduled for May but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two others – on the questions of paternity leave and new fighter jets – were added in recent months. 

READ: Switzerland is now in a stronger position to negotiate with EU 

Voter participation Sunday ticked in at nearly 59 percent, which is exceptionally high in a country where it is rare to see more than 50 percent of voters turn out for the frequent popular polls.

Individual cantons also held their own votes. Geneva, for instance, went to the polls to decide on implementing a cantonal minimum wage. 

Here’s a summary of the five major votes and those in the cantons. 

A limitation on EU migration 

The most controversial question is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’, which sought to restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland, was defeated.

Final results showed that 61.7 percent of Swiss voters had balked at an initiative to tear up an agreement permitting the free movement of people between Switzerland and the surrounding EU.

The initiative, backed by the populist right-wing SVP — Switzerland's largest party — had been opposed by the government, parliament, unions, employer organisations and all other political parties out of fear it would jeopardise overall relations with the bloc.

Paternity leave

Several other issues were on the ballot Sunday as part of Switzerland's famous direct democracy system.

The voting hinted at a shift in Switzerland's rather traditional approach to family models and gender roles, with more than 60 percent of ballots cast in favour of offering paternity leave for the first time.

Switzerland, which did not grant women the right to vote until 1971, still lags behind much of Europe when it comes to parental leave.

The country first introduced 14 weeks paid maternity leave in 2005 and has until now offered no paternity leave, with new fathers legally entitled to take only one day — the same amount of time granted when moving house.

The Swiss parliament gave the green light for the two-weeks paternity leave last September, but SVP and other opponents had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum, arguing that taxpayers should not be asked to cover “holidays” for new fathers.

With Sunday's vote, paternity leave will, like maternity leave, offer Swiss parents 80 percent of their salary, up to a ceiling of 196 Swiss francs per day.

Fathers can thus receive a maximum of 2,744 Swiss francs ($3,000, 2,550 euros) during their two weeks of leave.

Adrian Wuthrich, head of the trade union federation Travailsuisse and a supporter of the paternity leave push, hailed Sunday's result. New fathers “finally get more time off than they would for a move,” he told the RTS public broadcaster, stressing though that two weeks should be seen as a minimum.

Photo: MORGAN LIEBERMAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Hunting

Another referendum Sunday, on a revision of Switzerland's hunting law to make it easier to address country's rapidly growing wolf population, was meanwhile rejected by 51.9 percent of voters.

A comparative assessment of the results showed a large split between country and city voters on the issue. 

Fighter jets

Also on the ballot Sunday was a referendum on dishing out six billion Swiss francs ($6.6 billion, 5.6 billion euros) for new fighter jets, which squeezed through with a mere 50.1 percent of votes in favour.

The vote was far closer than expected, with under 9,000 votes nationwide deciding the question. 

This should put an end to a more than decade-long debate about replacing Switzerland's ageing fleet of jets, although another vote could be held once the government determines which planes it is looking to buy.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the people vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

 
Switzerland will go to the polls to vote on purchasing fighter jets. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
 
Child tax deduction 

The next question was on tax deductions for families.

Gaining 63.2 percent of the vote, the initiative was soundly rejected – in what Swiss media described as a “surprise win” for the coalition of centre-left parties who opposed it. 

Beat Jans, Vice President of the centre-left Social Democrats (SP), said that the result shows the population “no longer swallows tax cuts for the rich”. 

READ MORE: The real cost of parenting in Switzerland and how to save money

The deductions were introduced late in 2019, increasing the maximum tax deduction for childcare from CHF10,000 to CHF25,000 along with raising the general tax deduction for childcare from CHF6,500 to CHF10,000. 

The centre-left SP argued that these deductions only benefitted the very wealthy and should therefore be scrapped. The Government argued that the deductions remove the barriers for women with children – especially those who are highly qualified – to pursue employment. 

Minimum wage in Geneva

Geneva voters on Sunday came out in support of introducing a minimum wage, guaranteeing every worker in one of the world's priciest cities at least 23 francs ($25) an hour. 

Switzerland as a whole has no minimum wage, and voters in 2014 turned down a chance to adopt one at a national level.

Geneva voters themselves have twice previously rejected calls to introduce a minimum wage in the city.

But on Sunday the winds appeared to have changed as the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the wealth gap, with 58 percent of voters in the canton coming out in favour of the unions-backed initiative.

The result made Geneva the third of Switzerland's 26 cantons to set a minimum hourly earnings rate after Jura and Neuchatel.

This is well above the current highest minimum wage in the world, which is Australia’s $19.84 per hour (CHF13.15). 

 

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SWITZERLAND

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place. 

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