Will foreigners in Switzerland finally earn the right to vote in federal elections?

Will foreigners in Switzerland finally earn the right to vote in federal elections?
Swiss party calls for voting rights for foreigners. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
In an ongoing effort to include foreign nationals in Switzerland’s political decisions, one party is proposing granting voting rights to foreign nationals in federal elections. It submitted the project on Monday, while the parliament is in its spring session.

What is this parliamentary proposal and who is spearheading it?

It seeks to allow political rights to people of foreign nationality, including the right to vote and be elected at the federal level.

An estimated 1.5 foreigners living in Switzerland “should have the right to participate in decision-making in the country in which they reside, often for a very long time.

A democracy that takes diversity into account carries more weight”, said the Green Party, which is spearheading the campaign. 

Do foreigners already have any voting rights in Switzerland?

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

But 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”, FSO said.

READ MORE: Jobs in Switzerland: Foreigners ‘less likely to be hired than Swiss nationals’ 

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.

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

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.

What are the chances of this proposal actually succeeding?

As the parliament is in session only until March 19th and its agenda is full, it could possibly debate the issue in its summer or fall session.

But even if the proposal gets parliamentary approval, the issue will have to be ultimately decided in a referendum, and conservative groups like Swiss People’s Party (SVP) would most likely oppose it.

Paradoxically, foreigners will not be able to vote on whether they should they have the right to vote.

READ MORE: Switzerland marks 50 years of women voting 


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