On Sunday, the canton of Neuchâtel asked voters if foreigners holding C permits, with at least five years of residence, should be allowed to run for political seats in cantonal elections. The result: 54% voted “no”.
If the initiative, the first of its kind in Switzerland, had succeeded, around 23,000 foreign residents would have gained the right to be voted for at a cantonal level.
The project, put forward by a left leaning group in 2015, believes the initiative would have increased a sense of belonging, responsibility and integration. In addition, the canton’s government was behind the plan. Those opposed, such as the UDC (SVP) and PLR (FDP), took the view that this group should become Swiss citizens if they wanted to enter politics.
While a majority of the canton voted against the initiative, some districts were in favour of it. Neuchâtel city, the town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, and the village of Valangin showed majorities in favour.
Neuchâtel is one of only two cantons, including Jura, that allows established foreigners to vote in cantonal elections. Since 2001, the rules have allowed all foreigners above the age of 18, who hold c permits, and who have lived in the canton for at least five years, to vote.
In addition, Neuchâtel is among four cantons that allow the same group to vote and run for seats at a communal level. The others are Vaud, Jura and Fribourg. The canton of Geneva allows voting at a communal level, but doesn’t allow foreigners to hold office. In German-speaking Switzerland, the three cantons of Basel-City, Graubunden and Appenzell-Innerrhoden, give their communes the possibility of granting established foreigners a right to vote in communal elections.
Switzerland’s government has three layers: communal, cantonal and federal. Communes are like local councils but with some tax raising power. Cantons are like states and provide most essential services such as education, hospitals and many social services. Federal government is focused on areas such as defense, diplomacy, national infrastructure, and providing a framework within which the cantons operate.
The right to vote in most countries generally derives from citizenship with a few exceptions. For example, in the UK, in addition to UK citizens, resident Irish, and citizens of qualifying commonwealth countries on permanent residency visas, can vote at UK general elections. While citizens of other EU countries can vote at UK local and european elections.