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Referendums For Members

Why has Switzerland set dates for referendums up to the year 2042?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why has Switzerland set dates for referendums up to the year 2042?
Swiss referendums are planned 20 years in advance. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

You may not have noticed, unless you pay attention to such things, but the Swiss government has already published dates for national referendums for the next…20 years. Why?

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The dates, starting in 2023 and continuing into 2042, are listed on the official site of the Federal Chancellery.

You may think this is because the Swiss are overly organised and they like to plan ahead instead of being surprised (pleasantly or not) by unexpected events.

But by having the dates ahead of time, the Swiss are comforted to know there is a certain order in their world. Plus, they can make sure they don’t plan or schedule any events that would interfere with their civic duty — even if it is two decades from now.

However, when you think about, there is nothing unusual in knowing precise dates of future referendums.

Like the proverbial Swiss clockwork, citizens vote four times a year: in February or March, May or June, September, and November, weighing in on a variety of issues of local, regional or national importance (see below).

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Referendums are always scheduled for Sunday mornings. Though nowadays the majority of people in Switzerland vote ahead of time by mail, some traditionalists still prefer to make the trek to their commune’s town hall to slip the ballot into the box in person.

In all, the Swiss have voted 321 times since 1848, the year when the current system of referendums started.

All of this activity is part of a unique, centuries-old tradition of direct democracy which gives people — rather than lawmakers — the power to shape local and national policies.

READ MORE: Referendums- Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

When are referendums scheduled for in 2023?

The dates are March 12th, June 18th, October 22nd, and November 26th.

However, the first round, on March 12th, has been cancelled because there are no issues to be voted on; this is bound to happen from time to time when referendums are scheduled so far in advance.

Topics for the other referendums are not yet known either, but what we do know is that October 22nd will be an important day in Swiss political life, because MPs for both chambers of the parliament (Council of States and National Council) will be elected by the voters — as is done every four years.

What are some of the important issues that have been voted on in the past?

Looking back over the last 175 years, it is clear that Swiss voters had many of the same concerns as we do now — for instance taxation, social insurance, health, housing, and army.

Some issues are clearly more "dated,” such as funding for the fight against the tuberculosis, which was on the ballot in 1949.

In more recent times, some referendum results have had major impacts on the way we live today: on October 12, 1994, the Swiss voted to accept the federal law that made health insurance mandatory in Switzerland.

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Certain issues that ended up on the ballots were decidedly offbeat.

In 2010, the Swiss voted on whether each of the country's 26 cantons should be obligated to appoint a special attorney to represent pets and farm animals in court in cases of alleged abuse (this proposal was turned down at the polls).

On the other hand, some wacky initiatives have passed the muster: in 2012, 52 percent of Zurich voters approved a plan to set aside $2 million of taxpayer’s money to build accommodations for the city’s prostitutes, so that they could ply their trade in comfort and safety.

On a more serious note, the fate of Switzerland’s heroin distribution programme (HAT) was also decided at the polls.

Launched in 1994, the programme doles out pure, industrially produced heroin under medical supervision in 21 clinics and two prisons. Its goal is to keep addicts off the streets and reduce crime.

In a 1997 referendum, 70.6 percent of voters turned down proposals from conservative groups to scrap the government's liberal policy on illegal drug use.

And in 2008, when it was time to renew HAT, 68 percent of voters approved its continuation, giving in to pragmatism that the Swiss are known for.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s heroin distribution programme?

 

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