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EXPLAINED: What impact will the burqa ban have on Switzerland?

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a ban on full face coverings in public places, which includes burqas and other forms of clothing that conceal the face.

EXPLAINED: What impact will the burqa ban have on Switzerland?
Burqas and other face concealments will not be allowed in Switzerland. Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

Official results showed that 51.2 percent of voters and a majority of cantons supported the controversial proposal.

READ MORE: Swiss voters narrowly back controversial ‘burqa ban’

What are the reactions to the ban?

Proponents of the initiative expressed their satisfaction with how the vote turned out.

“We are glad, we don’t want radical Islam in our country at all”, said Marco Chiesa, head of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the vote. 

On its website, the party said that the ban on concealing one’s face also “ensures greater security, because this measure also explicitly targets hooligans and leftist thugs who, concealed by hoods, commit acts of violence and vandalism”.

However those who opposed this measure are critical of the vote outcome.

“The question should not have been asked at the polls. This vote was a pretext to add fuel to the fire”, said  Islamologist Stéphane Lathion.

The Swiss chapter of Amnesty International noted that the new measure “discriminates against a particular religious community, and fuels division and fears”. 

Roger Nordmann, head of the Socialist lawmakers in parliament, said that some people voted for the ban for “feminist reasons” — that is, to free Muslim women from being forced to cover their face.

However, “no problem has been solved and women’s rights have not progressed either,” he said

Was the vote driven by Islamophobia?

While the post-referendum survey conducted among the Swiss voters by Tarmedia showed that 91 percent of SVP members voted to accept the initiative, some members of centrist and leftist parties also said ‘yes’  – but for different reasons. 

More than half of supporters of centrist parties and a fifth of those belonging to the Green and Social Democratic Party also slipped a “yes” in the ballot box.

But unlike the SVP supporters, these liberal voters backed the initiative for feminist reasons as well as secular ones — to exclude religious symbols from public life. 

What happens now? 

The Federal Council, which is the executive branch of the government, will submit proposals to parliament on how to implement this initiative.

However, this will not happen overnight: authorities have two years to draw up detailed legislation.

What is the likely impact of this new measure?

It will certainly stimulate political debate, but the actual effect is likely going to be limited.

There are less than 100 women who wear full face veils in Switzerland, so the impact will not be widespread.

In Ticino, where burqa ban has been in effect since 2016, fines of up to 10,000 francs can be imposed for breaking this law. However, none have been given out so far.

The ban may, however, have a negative effect on Switzerland’s tourism sector, which has already suffered multi-billion-franc losses in the past year due to the pandemic.

Switzerland “will lose these well-off guests from the Gulf countries”, according to Barbara Gisi, director of the Swiss Tourism Federation.

In 2019, nearly 864,000 people from these states visited Switzerland.

In Ticino, burqa ban has had an impact on tourism, Gisi said. The canton has lost 30 percent of visitors from the Gulf countries after the law went into effect.

The Federation will try “through awareness-raising actions to welcome as many socially more progressive tourists as possible from these states”, Gisi added.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s ‘anti-burqa’ initiative all about? 

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Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

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

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.

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