No fighters, but cheaper buses
Switzerland’s functioning democratic system produced on 18 May an array of local and national decisions which shocked some, irritated others and rationally satisfied many, depending, of course, on which way you kicked.
The majority federal vote (53.4%) rejecting the Swiss army’s proposal to purchase 22 Swedish-built multipurpose Gripen jet fighters left the military reeling, primarily because most voters have traditionally cast their ballots in favour of what defence policymakers consider best. This time, however, citizens decided the cost was too high for planes that are not necessarily needed.
Another concern was the way Bern promoted the issue. Many felt that the pro-Gripen lobby was not transparent and that there were hidden agendas. The ballot now puts Switzerland back to square one. It is also forcing a debate on the sort of defence the country really requires. Should Switzerland be doing everything on its own, or be more integrated into a European-wide defence system with shared resources and capabilities?
Another issue was the rejection (76.3%) of the CHF 22 an hour minimum wage, which would have placed Switzerland at the top of the world’s basic salary rankings. While the trade unions were disappointed, the agricultural and hotel industries were not. Many farmers, who themselves barely earn CHF 4,000 a month, warned that it would have made seasonal labour unaffordable. It would also have made Swiss agriculture even less competitive. The hotel and restaurant associations voiced similar arguments in the run-up to the vote. They warned of layoffs and price hikes for an industry considered one of the most expensive in Europe.
With growing public awareness of human trafficking and child abuse networks, the Swiss voted (63.5%) against allowing known paedophiles to work with children. And as might be expected, they supported (88%) incorporating the right to basic health in the Swiss constitution.
Some cantonal electorates expressed their views on local issues ranging from the curbing of public transport fares (Geneva) to the use of Swiss-German dialects as opposed to Hochdeutsch, or standard German, in primary schools (Aargau). Curiously, while 53.8% of Genevois supported the initiative to peg bus and tram tickets, 51.1% backed a right-wing proposal to reject the construction of five border Park & Rides for French-side commuters, more or less undermining moves to encourage a more rational urban vision for a borderless “Greater Geneva”.
In Neuchatel, voters agreed (65.5%) to allow local authorities to decide on the deployment of up to 59 wind turbines for energy purposes on up to five sites. In Bern, voters rejected (63.3%) a proposal to close the Mühleberg nuclear power station prior to its scheduled shutdown in 2019. Despite a strong push by the anti-alcohol Blue Cross, the Zurichois decided (62.17%) against a ban on beer and other such beverages at local sports events. And once again, as with almost every referendum, some commentators wondered out loud whether this was indeed the most effective electoral vehicle for running the country.