Friday, September 28, 2007

Foreign residents given their say

From swissinfo, based on an article in German by Renat Künzi

A new website launched on Sunday gives Switzerland's foreign residents the
chance to vote – albeit unofficially - in next month's parliamentary elections.
The aim of the German-language site is to show that foreigners – who account for 20 per cent of the population – are responsible citizens and should be granted voting rights.

Hans Verbeke, one of the founders of the website,, said issues such as tax rates, pensions and relations with the European Union are of concern not only to the Swiss but also foreigners living in the country.

"We foreigners have many duties to perform as permanent residents therefore we should be given more responsibility, such as voting rights in referenda and elections," the Belgian marketing expert who has lived in Switzerland for 20 years told swissinfo.

He said Switzerland benefits greatly from its foreign residents since they too pay taxes and make their share of financial contributions to the country's social insurance system.

"We want to receive voting rights so we can take responsibility for the political
decision-making process too," Verbeke added. Interested foreign
residents can register online and cast their ballot anytime between October 14
and election day one week later.

Verbeke said the virtual ballot box would contribute to political transparency in the country. "The Swiss will be made aware of whom we would vote for if we only could."

The four-person team behind the project – two foreigners, Verbeke and an Austrian, as well as two Swiss – hope it will lead to foreigners being granted voting rights.

Four or five years?

"We want to see Swiss citizens launch an initiative which will lead to voters having a final say on the matter in four to five years' time," he said, adding he was convinced there was a good chance that this would happen. While the centre-left Social Democrats and Greens would be in favour of such an idea, Verbeke says the initiative would need the support of the two main centre-right parties, the Radicals and Christian Democrats, to win over enough of the electorate.

The rightwing Swiss People's Party, known for its anti-foreigner campaigns, represents the biggest obstacle to such a change to Swiss law.

"Anyone who really wants to vote can apply for citizenship," Gregor Rutz, the party's general secretary, told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

Foreign residents have already been granted limited voting rights in some cantons and towns and villages across the country.

"It could become a pioneering project and allow Switzerland to prove to the world that it is very different to how it is often perceived," the Belgian said.

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